March 6, 2017

Black Arts Movement Poet Sonia Sanchez Speaks at Mesa College

By Lauren J. Mapp

African American poet, professor and activist Dr. Sonia Sanchez spoke to a full room at San Diego Mesa College on Feb. 23 in honor of Black History Month.

African American poet, professor and activist Dr. Sonia Sanchez spoke to a full room at San Diego Mesa College on Feb. 23 in honor of Black History Month.


“‘I cannot tell the truth about anything unless I confess being a student - growing and learning something new every day – the more I learn, the clearer my view of the world becomes,’” said Mesa College President Dr. Pamela Luster, Ed.D., during her introductory speech, quoting Sanchez. “In the presence of Dr. Sonia Sanchez, we are all students today…this kind of event is what it means to be the ‘Leading College of Equity and Excellence.’”


Known for her work with both the Black Arts and Civil Rights movements, Sanchez has written seven plays and more than 16 books of poetry, including “Shake Loose My Skin,” “Ash,” “Morning Haiku” and “Under a Soprano Sky.” She is the 1999 recipient of the Langston Hughes Poetry Award,  and the 2001 recipient of the Poetry Society of America Robert Frost Medal for “Distinguished Lifetime Service to American poetry”.


Sanchez has taught at eight universities, including San Francisco State University, where she helped to introduce the first classes in Black Studies in the late 1960s.


“Dr. Sanchez is the gardener of advancing our intellectual prowess as someone who broke down barriers, especially with the Black Arts Movement, that education and learning did not have to happen simply through a lecture,” said Thekima Mayasa, professor of Black Studies. “She reminded us that there is more than one way to develop our scholarship, to share our scholarship, to embrace our identity, to discover who we are – and that gardening has resulted in what you see here today with Departments of Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies.”


During her visit to Mesa College, Sanchez read excerpts from several of her books, including “SOS – Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader” that she co-edited with John H. Bracey, Jr. and James Smethurst. She also spoke of her experiences in helping to create the interdisciplinary field of Black Studies, and how that resulted in a visit from the FBI while she was living in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.


Upset and confused as to why the FBI was concerned about her teaching materials, Sanchez called her New York City’s Schomburg Center for Black Culture curator Jean Hudson, a friend who had given her many of the books that she used in her teachings.


“I said the, ‘FBI has just come to my house and in a sense, threatened me, and all I’m doing is teaching black literature,’ and she said, ‘oh, my dear Sonia, I thought you knew, that you were doing more than that,’” Sanchez said. “‘I thought you knew that you were teaching culture, that you were teaching history.’”


For more information about the Black Studies Department at Mesa College, contact Thekima Mayasa at (619) 388-2352 or

Tags: Sonia Sanchez, Black History Month