Change was coming on Jan. 20, bringing sighs of relief from many who supported the Joseph Biden-Kamala Harris ticket and others who simply wanted a change of course away from the last four years of tumult that defined Donald Trump’s presidency. Excitement rose due to a shift toward a more-hopeful day in the United States, in addition to the boundaries broken by Harris, the country’s first female vice president. Harris is the first Black vice president. She is also the first vice president whose heritage is rooted in Southern Asia. While the day was significant due to the barriers broken by Harris, another extraordinarily bright glimmering example of Black excellence stole the show on Inauguration Day. Her name is Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet to speak during a U.S. presidential inauguration.
Born in Los Angeles as a twin with sister Gabrielle—who is a filmmaker—on March 7, 1998, Gorman’s mother, Joan Wicks, an English teacher, raised the children along with their brother Spencer, as a single parent. Gorman’s fascination with song and poetry began at a young age, yet she also faced the challenges of auditory processing and a speech impediment, which is an experience she shares with President Biden. It is a struggle about which she has talked openly, encouraging others who share these challenges to follow their dreams. Through working with non-profit organization WriteGirl LA, which is a Los Angeles-based mentorship program aimed at helping young girls find their voices through writing, Gorman was able to cultivate the method of delivering her message.
During her days as a student at Santa Monica, Calif., college-preparatory school New Roads High School, Gorman had already proved her star power. The bright young woman was named the first Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate in June 2014. This time period yielded these words from Gorman, “Life is like a summer cherry blossom; cherish it before the gentle wind blows it away, and you will always know its vibrant beauty.”
Also known for her activism, Gorman established herself early on as a voice that speaks not only through the pen but also via peaceful protest. From the Bring Back Our Girls Efforts in 2014 that aimed at finding the Chibok schoolgirls who had been kidnapped in Nigeria, to recent COVID-19 initiatives to help feed children who depend on school meals through a joint effort with Save the Children, No Kid Hungry, and Save With Stories, Gorman is often a voice for the voiceless or underrecognized.
In 2015, local arts-and-culture newspaper “The Argonaut” described Gorman as the “Girl on Fire.” That same year, the young poet published her first collection of poetry titled “The One for Whom Food is Not Enough.” She began working with Ann Inc.’s AnnPower to promote leadership mindsets among young women, and Trust Women, which supports the fight for women’s choice in reproductive healthcare.
To give back in the same manner that she was supported, in 2015 Gorman founded One Pen, One Page, a nonprofit organization that relied on creative-writing programs, panels, and an online teen magazine to promote literacy. Adding to her efforts, while maintaining academic honors, Gorman began working with 826 National, an organization that cultivates the potential of young writers. Gorman became an 826 National board member in 2019.
By the time Gorman decided to attend Harvard University on a full scholarship, she was already known for her poetry that often focused on illuminating the plights of women, Black Americans, underserved groups, and environmental responsibility. In 2017, she achieved another accomplishment when she became the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate.
It is clear that prior to her Inauguration Day address, Gorman was already a shooting star, having received her numerous accolades, in addition to partnering with names such as Eileen Fisher for the brand’s “Creativity is Power” campaign, representing Helmut Lang, and attending Milan Fashion Week. In 2019, Gorman debuted a picture book named “Change Sings,” the same year she recited her “The Believer’s Hymn of the Republic” during the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, observing the Fourth of July.
A graduate of the class of 2020, Gorman was forced to observe her milestone under unique circumstances, as she celebrated graduating cum laude from Harvard College with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology. During a virtual graduation ceremony that was hosted by feel-good organization Some Good News for 2020 graduates, Gorman was joined by John Krasinski and surprise guest Oprah Winfrey.
Aiming to run for president in 2036, Gorman has been connected with women within the political sphere for a number of years. Gorman connected with Michelle Obama in the past, meeting the former first lady in 2016, after the young creative was named Youth Poet Laureate of the West. According to the Associated Press, Gorman was recommended for the Inauguration Day role by First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden.
Media reports noted that Gorman’s caged-bird ring that adorned her right hand as she gestured while speaking during the inauguration was a gift from Oprah Winfrey. The piece paid homage to the late Maya Angelou, the venerated African American poet who presented her “On the Pulse of the Morning,” during Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration Day ceremony. As an imperfect country heals, with hope to live up to its promises, Amanda Gorman was the perfect example of the nation we should strive to become.
“The Hill We Climb”
By Amanda Gorman
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 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. 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.