An overflow of students, alumni and lovers of literature spilled into the halls of the Frederick Humphries Science Research auditorium in honor of keynote speaker, Natasha Trethewey.
Florida A&M University’s Department of English and Modern Languages hosted the 10th Annual Literacy Forum Friday evening. Inspired by Black History Month, the featured theme was, “We Built This: Storytellers and Culture-Bearers”
Legacy Chorale set the atmosphere with a soulful musical selection, followed by poetry performances from local talent. The event also featured a tribute to the honorable Booker Gainor, mayor of Cairo, and words of wisdom from FAMU President Larry Robinson.
The speakers expressed a profound focus on uplifting the youth, and the use of art and literature as an internal foundation to combat injustice.
Natalie R. King-Pedroso is an associate professor of English and chair of the Spring Literacy Forum Committee. Her vision has been to implant and affirm the significance of heritage and tradition in African-American students.
“This started as a team teaching activity in FAMU’s department of English,” King-Pedroso said. “A few professors were teaching the same authors and realized, the different perspectives of each student. So we gathered all of our students together, to share our thoughts and ideas.
“It has now evolved into this beautiful activity, and more than anything we hope it teaches our students that no matter where you come from you have nothing to be ashamed of – we built this.”
Tretheway sealed the night with readings from a collection of poems written by her and her father, who was also a poet. She has made a name for herself as an established author and poet. Her awards include United States Poet Laureate, 2012-2014, Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, 2007, and former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.
While reciting her poems she uncannily revealed the dynamics of her parents as an interracial couple and the death of her mother.
Each poem unveiled a layer of Trethewey's troubled past bringing to light her notion to use literature as a positive outlet. Through her work, she inspires others to channel their legacy and honor the power to create change.
“I remember during the theatrical illustration of my book ‘Native Guard’ hearing the wonderful actor January LaVoy, who plays the poet in my book say, ‘That it wasn’t past it was prelude.’
“I’ve been trying to talk about the issues that we’re seeing manifest much more visibly in the culture right now. More people now are starting to listen to us, and now that we have them listening we have to tell the full story. When they hear our story, how they can’t ignore it. and it’s not just my voice it's all of us now.”