Black Success

Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate who stole the show at the Inauguration

words by: Natasha Marsh
Jan 22, 2021

Following the Inauguration, I fell into a frenzy researching Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old, Los Angeles born, poet who delivered her self-penned work ,“The Hill We Climb” at the 59th Presidential Inauguration held on January 20.

 

Gorman made history as the youngest poet ever to perform at a presidential inauguration, encouraging Americans to unite and come together. “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” she declared. “And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”

 

Gorman, no stranger to a large platform, was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at age 16 where a few years later, while studying sociology at Harvard, became the National Youth Poet Laureate, the first to hold this position. The Laureate, much like President Biden, suffered from a speech impediment as a child. For Biden it was a stutter, for Gorman, she had trouble with the letter “R.” She took to poetry as a way to get her voice on paper and eventually became her own speech pathologist to teach herself to say the letters. “When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds [and] be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience,” she tells the BBC. “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be.”

 

In late December 2020, Jill Biden saw a video of Amanda Gorman at The Library of Congress and set her eyes on having her say a few words on the historical day. Gorman began the process with intense research, pulling from American leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and others who are known to bring people together amongst divisions. But what really propelled her work was the Capitol riots on January 6. From the onset, the main theme of the piece was hope; but after seeing the riots and reading the American peoples reaction, Gorman was certain that hope needed to be apparent in every single line.

 

The poise of this young woman was truly unmatched for anything else we saw at the inauguration and surely everything we’ve seen in the past four years. In a conversation with Anderson Cooper, Gorman talks about how the last line, “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it,” was included because she realized hope is not what we should ask of others, but what we should demand from ourselves. It reminds me of Octavia Butler’s brilliant words: So be it, see to it.

 

She depicted the bravery that it would take to become a united nation — one that acknowledges it’s past mistakes, hurt, privilege, and problems and rises above:

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division”

 

As a Black woman, I salute you Amanda Gorman. For beautifully speaking to the soul of a country sick with police brutality, a pandemic, climate change, poor leadership and a slew of other issues. Thank you for being you and showing the world what Black excellence, hope and strategy look like. Brava!

 

 

Read the full brilliant transcription below:

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
“The Hill We Climb” will be released in her debut poetry collection form later this year.

 

Photo via AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool