The historical inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris occurred at the precipice of America’s democratic demise. These past few months have been filled with violence, rage and vast political polarisation.
Along with a growing number of pandemic-related deaths, it was clear that the American people desperately needed some hope. 22-year-old Amanda Gorman delivered just that last night, in a five-minute long poem, to commemorate the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.
At the Capitol, where just 2 weeks ago a mob of rioters stormed the halls of the Congress, Amanda recited ‘The Hill We Climb’. Describing herself as “a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother [who] can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one”, she proceeded to awe the nation and the world with her hope-filled verses.
Amanda included the theme of the inauguration ‘America United’ as she spoke of unity and reconciliation. She also did not gloss over the recent riots at the country’s Capitol. This was culminated in the following verse: “But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
Amanda found out, when she received the call about this once in a lifetime opportunity, that it was Jill Biden who convinced the inaugural committee that Amanda should recite something. The First Lady was a fan of Amanda’s poetry.
The Los Angeles native had a speech impediment as a child – an affliction President Biden himself went through. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said, “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be. When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds, when you have to be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience.”
Amanda used to have trouble pronouncing the letter ‘R’, often saying ‘poetwy’ instead of ‘poetry’.
Joan Wicks, her mother, teaches middle school. She had a huge impact on Amanda, who witnessed her mother’s ability to empower young people through language. When her own third grade teacher recited Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’ to the class, Amanda said she remembers that a metaphor caught her attention and it reverberated inside her.
Amanda became the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16 and proceeded to publish her first collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. Three years later, while studying sociology at Harvard University, she was named the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate.
Amanda has expressed her intention to run for president in 2036, inspired by the election of Kamala Harris, who is the first Black and South Asian woman to be elected as Vice-President. “There’s no denying that a victory for her is a victory for all of us who would like to see ourselves represented as women of colour in office,” Amanda told the LA Times.
Amanda will publish the first of her two children’s books in September. She said these books were a product of her desire to write books “in which kids could see themselves represented as change-makers in history, rather than just observers.”
Amanda and her poem took the world by storm. She has been receiving an endless stream of praise and support.
Michelle Obama tweeted, “With her strong and poignant words,@TheAmandaGorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can’t wait to see what you do next.”
Amanda shows us that even in the darkest of times, we have to embody bravery in becoming the light. It’s safe to say we can all echo Clinton’s anticipation for this 22-year-old poet’s run for the presidency.
Check out the five-minute long poem.