I suspect I am not alone in thinking Amanda Gorman was pretty awesome as she read her poem, The Hill We Climb, at President Joe Biden’s inauguration yesterday. At 22 years old, she is the youngest poet to have this honor.
Amanda grew up in Los Angeles with her Mom (a single mom and schoolteacher). She began writing at an early age to overcome a speech impediment. In an interview with CBS, she said that this compelled her to learn our language in a way that is different than it might be for someone without this hurdle. She started to view the language as a dance instead of just words on a page. At age 14, she joined WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that helps teen girls discover the power of their voice through creative writing. In 2014, she won the first Los Angeles youth poet laureate and in 2017 became the first national youth poet laureate. She credits WriteGirl for allowing her to pursue this creative outlet.
In December, after being invited by the now first lady, Jill Biden, to read at the inauguration, Amanda received her first call from Oprah Winfrey. She said she was floored. According to thegrio.com ‘“Gorman was styled by Italian fashion label Prada, with jewelry gifted to her by Oprah Winfrey. During CBS News’ live broadcast of the event, Winfrey’s longtime bestie, veteran journalist Gayle King, revealed how Gorman was initially offered a coat in honor of late poet Maya Angelou, PEOPLE reports.
King explained, “Maya [Angelou] did Bill Clinton’s address. She reached out to Amanda because [Winfrey] bought Maya her coat that she wore that day,” King explained. “She said, ‘I’d like to get a coat for you to carry on that tradition.'”
“[Gorman] said, ‘I’ve already picked out my coat. It’s yellow. It’s my favorite color.'” So instead of a coat, Winfrey gave Gorman earrings and “a ring that’s shaped like a caged bird” as a tribute to Angelou’s ionic poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”’
In this time of unrest and conflict, Gorman’s words are ones that we can take hope in. Here is her poem in its entirety:
The Hill We Climb
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 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 justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we 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 our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, 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 promise to 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, become the future.
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.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden 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 sun-baked 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 of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons 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.