Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Inspiring Impulse

BOND: You don't decide to become a poet because you see Langston Hughes.


BOND: There's some impulse in you that makes you do this. At the same time, it's comforting to see Langston Hughes. To know that, "Here's somebody who is making a life of this. And therefore it's possible." I guess that's what I'm trying to get at.

GIOVANNI: I think that the comforting thing about Langston, and I only knew one person in all of my years in Harlem and all of my talking to people, I only knew only one person that had a negative story about Langston. So what Langston shows us is that you can be nice. We're not learning you can be a poet because, hell, what's his name, the slave -- Phillis Wheatley taught us you can be a poet. And who did she have to turn to? Do you see what I'm saying?

BOND: Yes, I guess so.

GIOVANNI: So, I mean it's like, who did Harriet Tubman have to turn to? And, hell, Martin -- Martin knew he could be a preacher because there are eighty million, but who existed in Martin's universe? Actually there's only one other star in Martin's universe and that was Malcolm because they both could bring something else to the table. But in terms of role models you can't -- I guess I so resist people thinking like that because I think it's about dreams. I think it's about "I'm going to do this and if I -- I'm going to do it as well as I can. And If I could do any one thing, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. And If it doesn't work, then it didn't work."

I never -- this is just me, Nikki. I never wanted to be in that position that said, "I could have been." I knew, and I still know, too many people that say, "Oh, I could have been dancer, or I could have been a writer, I was going to go and?" No, no, no. You put everything you have into it. And if it works then you do it, and if it doesn't then you know, this is not for you.

Mr. [Aaron] Douglas by the way told me -- because I was discouraged -- I used to paint. He was my art history teacher, and so we had to do some. I took some paintings in and he looked at it. He said, "Oh Nikki, he says you have an interesting mind." I said, "That's very nice Mr. Douglas." He was an old man. "That's very kind of you, Mr. Douglas." "But you'll never be a painter." I said, "I know that." This is true because I don't have the discipline to be a painter because I don't want to do it the way it should be done. I came to being a poet because I didn't want to be disciplined. I didn't want to be whipped into shape. I didn't want to be told. I wanted to be free, and poetry's about the only profession that lets you be free. I still want it.