CIA Welcomes Poet Nikki Giovanni for MLK Day Celebration
January 12, 2011
Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon E. Panetta today welcomed one of America’s best-known poets, Nikki Giovanni, to the Agency for its annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ms. Giovanni—the author of some 30 books for adults and children—first rose to prominence as an artist who gave voice to the African-American community in the years immediately following Dr. King’s assassination. Director Panetta introduced her, saying, “It is very fitting that we celebrate the life of Dr. King—a great orator, poet, activist, teacher, and leader—with words of wisdom from another great orator, poet, activist, teacher, and leader.”
Ms. Giovanni inspired hundreds of Agency employees with the story of Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon about whom Ms. Giovanni wrote an award-winning children’s book. Having known Mrs. Parks for more than 20 years, Ms. Giovanni painted a very detailed, personal picture of the woman whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, public bus helped to bring national attention to the injustice of segregation and to Dr. King.
On the first night of the yearlong bus boycott that followed Mrs. Park’s arrest, Dr. King spoke to the black community of Montgomery. “He asked the question that’s going to be central to the twentieth century,” Ms. Giovanni said. “‘Shall we continue?’ And the people said ‘yes.’”
Before introducing Ms. Giovanni, Director Panetta spoke about his life-long commitment to civil rights: “As the son of Italian immigrants, I had my own experience confronting discrimination—enough to know that unless we provide equality to all, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, none of us can be truly free. That was the message of Dr. King and why I believe this holiday is so important to our nation.”
Strengthening workforce diversity and fostering an environment that values the work and ideas of officers from a wide variety of backgrounds are top priorities at the CIA. Director Panetta urged Agency officers to take full advantage of the opportunity that MLK Day presents:
“Today we honor Dr. King, we reflect on the power of his ideas and what it means to be Americans, and, most of all, we take this moment to rededicate ourselves to the American dream that he fought for and that he gave his life for. His mission is our mission; his dream is our dream—an America of, by, and for all people.”