Throughout the poem, the speaker directly addresses those who have tried to persecute and oppress her because of the color of her skin. She repeatedly says to these oppressors that while they may try to keep her down, she will always rise back up. In the first stanza, for example, she says that though her oppressors might "trod [her] in the very dirt," she will still, "like dust," rise back up.
The speaker repeats the same idea throughout the subsequent eight stanzas. In the third stanza, for example, she says that she will always rise "just like moons and like suns." In other words, it is as futile to try and keep her down as it is to try to stop the sun and the moon from rising. In the same stanza, she also compares her own resilience to "the certainty of tides."
In the sixth stanza, the speaker says that she will rise like "air." By comparing herself to natural elements like earth ("like dust"), water ("tides") and air, the speaker means to imply that she is as powerful and as fundamental as these elements. She is proud of her strength and of her resilience.
In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker repeats the phrase "I rise" five times. The repetition of this phrase, and also the repetition of a similar phrase ("I'll rise") earlier in the poem, helps to convey how resilient and defiant the speaker is. She will always rise up proudly every time her oppressors try to knock her down.