When I heard National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, her voice grabbed my attention with its eloquence. As she continued speaking, my eyes became transfixed on her face. Regal in the day’s light. Gold jewels in her hair. Gold hoops with teardrops from her ears. A bright red headband so perfectly matched in its stylistic beauty. Who was this young woman? So assured in voice and message?
I allowed my gaze to soften so as to take in her radiance. Her coat bright yellow like the sun. Her delicate hands danced in front of her. They expressed words silently and in unison with the same words that flowed from her lips. She pulled me in. Her poetic composition took my breathe away. The rhythm. The alliteration. Words said with power and with grace. Her voice rose and fell, and took everyone who listened on a journey through her soul. I sat watching. Enraptured.
As the young poet looked out over the National Mall brimming with flags that fluttered in the wind where inaugural audiences had stood in histories past, memories of her foremothers and forefathers in her head. Her voice rang out across America. She channeled Dr. King and Maya Angelou—emphatic and true. Only moments before flurries of snow had fallen from the heavens. Yet, in her moment, the dark winter sky had moved along. The sun took its place and shone down onto her luminescent skin. Mother Earth’s bright light accentuated and reinforced her plea.
Over the the course of the last four years, we the American people have endured pain, experienced disgust, heard abominations, felt division, and witnessed intolerance. The self-serving energy of an autocrat and his loyalists being spewed upon us as if each of them held us back with a firehose.
No more. No more do we have to hear the lies or experience the lunacy or shield our children from vileness. No.
It is a new day and we can rejoice.
We can breathe deeply and allow the clean, unfettered air of decency, dignity, and unity to fill our lungs once more.
Ms. Gorman’s words, in lock step with the vision of our new President and Vice-President, offer us a sacred space in collective thought where we may shake off what was, live for what is, and stand together looking forward to what will be.
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.Amanda Gorman, January 20, 2021 at the 59th Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris
Watch here and be transfixed like me.
One thought on “Response to Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb””
Dear sister–your words (“regal…enraptured…the dark winter sky moved along…the sun took its place…transfixed…”) so richly capture what I myself experienced listening to this powerful young voice…marveling at the truth she told and the hope she inspired. What power there is in listening to the voices of people like Amanda (young! not white!)! Of realizing she is not an exception but rather a representative from among millions of voices like hers longing–demanding–to be heard–yet still speaking even if they are not. I am inspired that her voice was foregrounded on such an historic day. And I am inspired to continue to make sure hers is not the only voice like hers that I heed.