Lifting Off with Donovan Livingston

By Hannah Rice

This past Tuesday, March 14, Donovan Livingston came to Winston Starts to teach his audience how to snap. Not so that the lights would come on and not in celebration of a fresh idea, but in affirmation of a truth and a story. Livingston came to share words of inspiration and encouragement, both through traditional speech and spoken word, with the Winston Starts and Winston-Salem community. Per his instructions, when his thoughts resonated with his crowd, peopled snapped. They snapped to say “yes”, to say “that speaks to me” and to say “this is part of my story too”.

A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Colombia, Harvard and now a Ph.D. candidate at UNC Greensboro, Livingston has spent the majority of his years studying education, diversity in education and more recently the role of hip-hop and poetry in students’ college experiences. On Tuesday he shared bits of his past as he walked the community through his story incorporating spoken word. With a painful beginning, Livingston struggled to find his identity as a non-athlete African-American student on UNC’s campus, ultimately finding that he found passion in poetry and joined the Ebony Readers/Onyx Theatre, a spoken word performance group through the Black Student Movement. Following a strong academic career at UNC, he transitioned into the role of a college advisor for over 550 students whom he mentored through the college search and application process. He encouraged each of his students to push beyond what was ordinary and expected of them, and to pursue larger and loftier dreams. In one of his poems entitled “Note to Self”, a piece reflecting on his first year of college, Livingston reminded himself, and all people, that “your goals are more than ten feet high”, a message highly reflective of Livingston’s mantra.

Through illustrating parts of his story and exemplifying others’ experiences, especially those from the African-American community throughout history, he encouraged and reminded business leaders and start-up founders to not exclude anyone’s narrative as they expand their outreach. Livingston urged leaders to recognize counter-narratives, or “a method of telling the story of those experiences that are not often told”. He explained that what at first is a story of self, should become a story of us, and then a story of now. Starting by asking who we are individually, who we are together and then how our stories can bring change in our city as a whole, becomes a broader manifestation of valuing each person’s story in the image of their community. Winston Starts is not only a space to collaborate in innovation, but a space for all members of the community to contribute to growing together, each bringing their own narratives to the table. With the story of each founder, each team member and each company, Winston Starts can tell the story of us, so that they may tell the story of Winston-Salem’s now. Donovan Livingston would surely agree that is definitely something worth snapping for.