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Nikki Giovanni will keynote 13th Annual Sweatt Symposium

Nikki Giovanni, a celebrated award-winning poet, will highlight the 13th Annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights with a keynote address and performance from 7 to 9 p.m., Friday, April 16th at KLRU.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Nikki Giovanni, a celebrated award-winning poet, will highlight the 13th Annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights with a keynote address and performance from 7 to 9 p.m., Friday, April 16th at KLRU.

Organized under the theme of “The Role of Art and Artists in the Struggle æ A Retrospective Look at the 20th Century”æ this year’s symposium celebrates the contributions artists have made in advancing the cause of civil rights.

Giovanni, who currently teaches English at Virginia Tech, exemplifies the legacy of African American poets, writers and artists whose work was, and is, rooted in the civil rights struggle. “Nikki Giovanni was the unanimous choice of committee members to keynote this year’s event,” said Terry Wilson, chairman of the Heman Sweatt Symposium Committee.

The symposium will be a weeklong celebration of arts and artists. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. April 12th, with a reception and exhibition of art produced by high school students from the Austin Independent School District in the Leeds Gallery on the 4th floor of the Flawn Academic Center. The program, which is free and open to the public, will include a panel discussion at 7:15 p.m. on “The Role of Art and Artists in the Struggle.” The art exhibition will be on view from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through April 15th.

A panel discussion titled “Hip-Hop, Rap and Poetry” will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. April 14th in UTC 2.112a. Panelists will be Aime Ellis, a graduate student and assistant instructor in African and African-American Studies; B.C. Harrison, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the Center for African and African-American Studies; Dr. Craig Watkins, an assistant professor in African and African-American Studies; Zell Miller, local artist and poet; and Nook, a local rap artist and performer.

Moderated by Steven Ward, a doctoral candidate in history, the panel will examine the correlation between artistic expression and the civil rights movement. The discussion will begin with an audiovisual presentation produced by Vanessa Foster, which will demonstrate the influence of hip-hop, rap and poetry on the popular culture.

On Thursday, April 15th, UT Austin and the Ebony Sun Java House, an East Austin artist support group and venue for poetry and readings, are co-sponsoring a poetry slam. A poetry slam is a competition in which presenters are judged on their overall performance of an original poetry piece, in this case centered on the theme for this year’s symposium, or on civil rights in general. All aspiring literary and performing artists who are 18 years are older, and any college student, are invited to participate in the slam. It will take place from 7 to 11 p.m. in the Texas Union Showroom on the campus of UT Austin.

First-, second-and third-place winners will have the opportunity to perform with Giovanni as part of the culminating event on Friday evening.

To sign-up for the poetry slam, contact UT Austin’s Office of Community Relations at (512) 232-4850 or by e-mail at: a_poetry_slam@hotmail.com, or contact the Ebony Sun Java House at (512) 989-8585 or by e-mail at: ebonysunj@yahoo.com.

In addition, from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, April 16, the regional finalists of the Barbara Jordan Historical Essay Competition will be honored at an archival ceremony hosted by UT Austin in the Reading Room (Room 2.106) of Sid Richardson Hall. The competition, sponsored by the Office of the President at UT Austin, is open to all high school students in grades nine through 12 and encourages students to research and write 1,500 to 2,500 word essays related to the theme of the competition, “The African American in Texas: Past and Present.” The finalists will receive certificates and medallions in the likeness of the late Honorable Barbara Jordan. Their essays will be archived in UT Austin’s Center for American History.

The symposium is named for Heman Marion Sweatt, an African American who was denied admission to the UT Austin School of Law in 1946 on the basis of race. Sweatt, with the help of the NAACP, sued the University. In the landmark case, Sweatt v. Painter, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate law school facilities could not provide an education equal in quality to that available at the UT law school. The Sweatt decision helped pave the way for admission of African Americans into segregated colleges and universities.

The event is sponsored by the UT Office of the President and members of the Heman Sweatt Symposium Committee.