MLK Celebration Highlights Southeast’s Commemoration of Black History Month


Nikki Giovanni

February Events Include Guest Speakers, Artists, Documentaries

Throughout February, Southeast Missouri State University will celebrate Black History Month with several events highlighting Black leaders, including the annual MLK (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Celebration, which will be held virtually on Feb. 10. This year’s theme is “Speaking to the Moment: Reconciling the Dream.”

Nikki Giovanni, a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator, is the keynote presenter for the evening. A distinguished professor in writing and literature at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and best-selling author, Giovanni has long inspired students and audiences to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

Sonia Rucker, vice president for Equity, Access and Behavioral Health, said Giovanni has “produced a body of work which is very reflective of what has been occurring in the U.S. and the world for the past 30 years.”

That body of work consists of more than two dozen books including volumes of poetry and three collections of essays, as well as 11 illustrated children’s books including “Rosa,” an award-winning biography of Rosa Parks. Giovanni’s autobiography, “Gemini,” was a finalist for the 1973 National Book Award. In 2004, her album, “The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection,” was a Grammy finalist for the Best Spoken Word Album.

Giovanni has received numerous other awards, including the inaugural Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, the American Book Award, the Langston Hughes Award, the Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts, and the Emily Couric Leadership Award. She is also a seven-time recipient of the NAACP Image Award and the recipient of 27 honorary degrees — and the keys to nearly as many cities including New York City, Miami, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

“Nikki Giovanni has been a strong influence in movements for social justice around the world for over 30 years,” said Dr. Shonta Smith, co-chair of Southeast’s MLK Planning Committee. “Nikki remains as determined and committed as ever to fight for civil rights and equality.”

Despite being held in a virtual format this year, the annual event honoring Dr. King’s legacy will showcase an exciting program.

The evening will be hosted by Southeast students Raven Cole and Anthony Shepard. Musical performances will be by Dr. Joseph Jefferson, the Southeast Jazz Collective, Southeast student Peighton Robinson, and Dr. Jonathan Bibbs, a Virginia-based singer-songwriter and educator.

“Even though this year’s MLK Celebration will be virtual, I think it’s going to be a very special event and one in which I hope many people will choose to participate,” Rucker said.

Rucker said she is in the process of creating a strategic plan and leading four initiatives announced by Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas at the University’s June 2020 Board of Regents meeting. The initiatives include:  (1) Developing and implementing a multi-year training program for University Leaders at every level; (2) Strengthening our student mentoring program; (3) Establishing a series of workshops dedicated to diversity and cultural inclusion; and (4) Enhancing engagement with community partners.  Rucker anticipates the plan and initiatives will be used as blueprints to make Southeast “a more inclusive and equity-minded institution and community.”

“The country, and the students who are attending college, are becoming more diverse and it is incumbent upon us to make ourselves a community which can attract, recruit and retain these diverse students,” Rucker said. “This means understanding the diverse needs of our faculty, staff and students and being intentional about the changes we want to see in the higher education and at Southeast.”

To register for the 2021 MLK Celebration, visit Registration is free. The virtual event will begin at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

For more information about Southeast’s free Black History Month events and activities, visit

Upcoming Black History Month events and activities will include:

  • Feb. 1-26: MLK Read-A-Thon
  • Feb. 9, 6 p.m.: Film: ‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’
  • Feb. 12, 8 p.m.: Comedian Ronnie Jordan
  • Feb. 16, 5:30 p.m.: Film: ‘What Killed Michael Brown?’
  • Feb. 17, 8 p.m.: Speaker: Dr. Umar Johnson
  • Feb. 24, 8 p.m.: Poet Jahman Hill
  • March 24, 8 p.m.: Performance by Zhalarina