Stunningly beautiful is what the buzz is. The more I saw, the more I needed to know. She was mesmerizing and full of grace. When I learned she too was a stutterer, it was even more special knowing that she represented those who have suffered through their own. And then I learned the story of what she wore.
Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history when she recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
The 22-year-old Los Angeles resident and daughter of a schoolteacher began writing at an early age in an attempt to cope with a speech impediment. Her writing practice took off, and at age 14, she joined WriteGirl, an LA-based nonprofit that helps teen girls discover the power of their voice through creative writing.
By age 16, she was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and a few years later while studying sociology at Harvard, she became the first National Youth Poet Laureate.
Gorman was invited to recite at the inauguration at the request of First Lady Jill Biden, who had seen the young poet give a reading at the Library of Congress, and suggested in late December she read something at the presidential ceremony.
A tidbit about her is she says a mantra whenever she is to perform. Anderson Cooper asked if she could reveal the mantra she said prior to her reading. “I close my eyes and I say: I am the daughter of Black writers, we are descended from freedom fighters, who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.” Anderson sat in stunned silence then managed: “Wow. Um wow. You are awesome. I’m so transfixed.” She’s promised to run for president in 2036.
For the past few weeks, Gorman wrote a few lines a day, and she finished writing late into the night of Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol Building.
Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” will align with the theme of the swearing-in ceremony of calling for national unity during a time of unprecedented illness, death and political division in the country. In researching for her work, Gorman drew inspiration from the speeches of American leaders during other historic times of division, including Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem,” Gorman said. “Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”
Gorman’s own future is bright: She has two books publishing soon, including the children’s book “Change Sings” due out in September. “There’s no denying that a victory for Kamala is a victory for all of us who would like to see ourselves represented as women of color in office,” Gorman told the LA Times. “It makes it more imaginable. Once little girls can see it, little girls can be it. Because they can be anything that they want, but that representation to make the dream exist in the first place is huge — even for me.”
During her reading, Gorman wore a ring with a caged bird, a gift from Oprah for the occasion and tribute to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Her coat and headband were of Prada, the colors picked specifically for this occasion.
“Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before,”
The Hill We Climb
“Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:
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.
Never were these words more true. Be the Light!
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