Only about 60 people were in the audience at the Mount Airy Learning Tree on March 21 to hear political activist Sonia Sanchez speak about some of the most tumultuous times in American history.
Sanchez spoke about her life experiences, activism and the subject she said she loves most: education.
For the past 40 years Sanchez, a former Temple professor, has been a staple of the black arts movement, which was particularly popular during the ’60s and ’70s.
As a prominent part of the activism and outspokenness that helped to shape the lasting legacy of her generation, Sanchez passed along the revolutionary message of her time through her poetry and books.
Sanchez, who taught for more than 30 years, began teaching English and women’s studies at Temple in 1977. She stayed at the university until 1999 and has written 16 books.
Continuing her mission as a scholar, teacher and community leader, Sanchez hosted a reading at the Learning Tree on Germantown Avenue. College and high school students as well as middle-aged adults made up the audience.
“It is an honor to be here,” Sanchez said in her opening remarks.
Returning to her roots as a political activist, she emphasized the need to effect change by teaching youth leadership skills.
“It’s a very interesting generation that we’re raising here,” Sanchez said. “They know just about everything and they have very little passion for most of the things we had. You have to reinvigorate the passion.”
That passion has been the driving force behind Sanchez’s mission to educate and mobilize the youth.
“She gave me things to think about because she mentioned a lot of general things about our generation,” said Alex Haspers, a high school student who is writing her thesis paper on Sanchez.
“I am so happy that many young people are beginning to run for office and think about it,” Sanchez said.
“I support them to get in [political office] and clean up the City Council, clean up the state, clean up this … country. Have your word, have your say.”
Although Sanchez spoke about such serious topics as her brother’s death from AIDS and environmental issues, she also engaged the audience with humorous anecdotes of her experiences as a teacher.
She also recited a poem dedicated to slain rapper Tupac Shakur.
” … He says ‘me against the world’ and we say ‘all of us against the world,'” Sanchez read. “He says ‘keep your head up’ and we say ‘yeah, family keep your head up every day.'”
Sanchez, who was born in New York, has traveled to several countries and lectured at more than 500 universities.
“Sonia did the event as a gift to the Learning Tree,” said Learning Tree director Jonna Naylor.
The profits from the $20 tickets were used as a fund-raiser to construct a mosaic in the Learning Tree library. According to Naylor, Sanchez is part of the mission of the Learning Tree to bring interesting speakers to the community building.
Sanchez said some of the greatest influences in her writing include activist Malcolm X. After meeting Malcolm X, Sanchez said she drew inspiration from his charismatic oratory techniques.
Sanchez, who has been a Philadelphia resident since 1976, said she is also inspired by the surroundings of the city’s urban landscape.
“Living in Philadelphia there’s so many things you can write about – the beauty of the city, the non-beauty of the city, most especially the people in the city, the wonderful people here in the city,” Sanchez said.
Roberto Beasley, a poet, was recently introduced to Sanchez’s work.
“My friend introduced me to her work. I sometimes dabble in poetry but I haven’t heard of her too much,” Beasley said. “I thought it was quite enlightening; she’s very deep.”
Renita Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.