Taryn Finley, Black Voices Associate Editor, The Huffington Post
A recent Harvard graduate just gave a poetic speech that every student and teacher needs to hear.
In his poem entitled “Lift Off,” Donovan Livingston stepped up to the mic at his Harvard Graduate School of Education convocation on Wednesday to speak about the trials and tribulations black people have endured, especially in the education system.
He began with a nearly two-century-old quote from Horace Mann in which he called education “a great equalizer.” At the time, Mann said black people would be lynched for even attempting to read.
“For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power,” Livingston continued. “Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —the guardians of information.”
Throughout his rousing poem, he spoke of the inequalities in the education system that has either held many black people back or used them as mere tokens.
Livingston, who described his passion as going beyond any curriculum, also spoke about finding his light.
“I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree,” he declared. “I am a DREAM Act, dream deferred incarnate. I am a movement — an amalgam of memories America would care to forget my past, alone won’t allow me to sit still. So my body, like the mind, cannot be contained.”
Livingston went on to implore that his fellow graduates — and professors — help free their students rather than to speak “over the rustling of our chains.” He used his seventh grade teacher, who helped him find his voice, as an example. The graduate said he sees “the same twinkle that guided Harriet to freedom” in his students’ eyes. He then urged educators to look beyond their students’ mischief and to instead help them realize their potential:
“Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Livingston, who will be attending the University of North Carolina in the fall for his Ph.D., tweeted the day after he gave his speech how important it was for him to overcome the roadblocks on his journey to Harvard and share his message.