Teaching Us to Walk in Peace: Sonia Sanchez lectures about Black Arts, politics and power

Many were moved to tears Tuesday November 16th as acclaimed poet, activist, and speaker Sonia Sanchez lectured about the merits of the upcoming generation’s duty to preserve our world through peace, resistance, and compassion. Razzo Hall was filled to capacity as Sanchez’s captivating poetry and prose became inseparable.

Standing small in stature, draped in a crown of gray curls, Sanchez’s humble presence let loose to a boisterous and lively performance of words. Though the subject matter was calm and resonating, her deliverance ignited her speech.

Sanchez herself was visibly moved by her plea to the youthful faces that filled the audience. “If you remember anything from me,” she said, covering her face momentarily, her voice shaking. “Remember that I believed in you.”

All photos copyright Ashley Klann.

English Professor Esther Jones, who organized the event, welcomed her to the stage saying that the talk would help to “build a bridge of understanding of the Black Arts Movement’s influence on today’s Hip Hop culture.”

“It expands and bridges generations,” Jones said. “Sonia Sanchez’s style calls us to question vernacular in art and explore and understand what Black Arts and Hip Hop culture are all about.”

Clark’s Hip Hop Collabo dance group presented an intro routine to their fall show that is scheduled for December 3rd and 4th. The dance combined hip hop, R&B, pop house, and international music.

In presenting the night’s speaker, Jones fought back tears of emotion. She described her style as having a “raging fire that calls us to action” and praised the poet’s keen observation, dynamic expression and tenacity. “She is a lover of the souls within us all,” she said.

Indeed Sanchez’s words served as a call to duty to stand up and make change happen. “Tell the people who run this world that you want a piece of it,” she said. “Let us decide what it is we will die for – what it is we will live for. Let us decide to harmonize. We must position ourselves with the world, with all kinds of people. Power belongs to a group, not an individual.”

Sanchez recited a long list of artists, authors, and activists from Ghandi to Tupac – from Einstein to Bob Marley. “These people have all done something in this century that has made us think about who we are and who we must be.”

Throughout her speech, Sanchez often made it difficult to discern what words were premeditated and what were spontaneous expression. She spoke with a rolling rhythm and a jovial nature even when speaking of such fragile, sensitive issues.

“We must actually change the direction of our country and the world as African Americans, as Native Americans, as Asian Americans, as Whites, as gays, as lesbians…” she said. Much of her talk centered on knowing our history and learning how to use to for future action. “We need to understand why we are here. We need to understand what we should be.”

Sanchez spent most of her talk away from the podium and mic, opting for a more organic experience. With eyes closed, it became apparent that Sanchez was getting just as much out of her words as those in the audience. To see someone who speaks to crowds as regularly as she does, it was moving to see her filled with such emotion.

She spoke of African American struggles like slavery and the hunger and wars still plaguing Africa today. Struggle, however, has been a theme throughout our nation’s history for many people. Sanchez likened the slave experience to Japanese internment camps, Chicano discrimination, Chinese building railroads in the West, and Native Americans defending their land. “We are not alone. We’ve found we are one,” she said.

Sanchez highlighted how political machines attempt to alienate and create tension between race groups. “To separate a people, you bring up the idea of race. People step back,” she said. “America has been built on lies, on anger. Land rights were placed above human rights.” She said that cultivating a sense of community, non-violence and caring was the only way to resist such manipulation.

Resist is a holy word,” she said. “It’s a political word, a word to teach ourselves and our children. Exploitation, gossip, violence, war… We must challenge – create new ways of learning and initiate peace in hearts, houses, every city we live in.”

Sanchez focused on the youthful generation. “Unless this generation walks in peace, there won’t be a twenty-second century,” she said. “Make a human decision not to finance the bigots. Stop financing ignorance in this country.”

“I’ve always said that if you organize enough young people, they can give you a run for your money, and I know we can’t afford to have another generation die on us. This world has given us too many warnings,” she said.

War and the misconnect between those running the country and the people were huge points of contention in Sanchez’s speech. “I’d be pissed if I was your age and older people were saying war was unavoidable. You want a war, old man, old woman? Well, go fight. We’ll stay home and run the country.” The audience erupted with applause. “We cried [during Vietnam] watching the body bags on the idiot box – on the TV. You don’t see them anymore. ‘Why should I care? It’s not my brother; it’s not my sister.’ Yes, it is.”

Sanchez also touched on our society’s sick obsession with violence and massacres. Gangs and wars, she said, saturate the media. “War is all you’ve ever seen. You’ve never even seen peace.”

“We must resist going to war and being placed against each other,” she said. “If you still think like that, you’re still a slave. Do we have the courage to be resistant – to be peaceful?”

Sanchez also dedicated part of her speech to discuss the transformation of language that hip hop has brought about. She told of how her father, a jazz musician, had hated bebop due to its fast tempo. With her fast-paced New York roots, Sanchez said that in years past audiences in San Francisco would tell her to slow down her speech. “Rap made everything faster,” she said. “Think about it. Your ears are tuned to anything fast.” She likened this heightened pace of music to advertising and the overall media saturation that is the current age of information.

Sanchez closed with an assignment. The professor instructed everyone to “Bring peace to this campus.” She gave everyone the task of not saying anything negative for one week. “Don’t tell me you’re peaceful on this campus,” she said. “It’s not easy to walk in peace.”

“Don’t let a person’s words and language bring you down to their level. Make them come up to your level. That’s a whole other conversation.”

Sanchez finished with her poem, “Peace,” a magnificent display of music and language coming together, filled with sounds of jazz and war. Her voice became an instrument as the speed and rhythm of her poetry resonated. “Let’s reform history. We must learn that we are history.”

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About Ashley Klann

Clark masters student. Local reporter. Photographer. View all posts by Ashley Klann

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