Every time 23 year old Youth Poets Laureate Amanda Gorman walks on to stage to perform a poem, she repeats something to herself. She says, “I am the daughter of black writers who are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.” She does this, she says, to help her distance herself from everyone that’s gone before her, and this makes what she says all the more impactful. She believes that poetry is a powerful medium for being able to connect the lines of what might be personal and private to the overarching changes societies and political communities engage in.
Here’s an excerpt from a Ted-Ed Student Talk she gave:
And the thing about poetry is that it’s not really about having the right answers, it’s about asking these right questions, about what it means to be a writer doing right by your words and your actions, and my reaction is to pay honour to those shoulders of people who used their pens to roll over boulders so I might have a mountain of hope on which to stand, so that I might understand the power of telling stories that matter no matter what. So that I might realise that if I choose, not out of fear, but out of courage to speak, then there’s something unique that my words can become. And all of a sudden that fear that my words might jumble and stumble go away as I’m humbled by the thoughts of thousands of stories a long time coming that I know are strumming inside me as I celebrate those people in their time who stood up so this little Black girl could rhyme as I celebrate and call their names all the same, these people who seem like they were just born to be bold: Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange, Phillis Wheatley, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Joan Wicks, Audre Lorde, and so many more.
It might feel like every story has been told before, but the truth is, no one’s ever told my story in the way I would tell it, as the daughter of black writers who are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me. I call them. And one day I’ll write a story right by writing it into a tomorrow on this Earth more than worth standing for.
A young black poet, born and raised in Los Angeles, Amanda was diagnosed with a speech impediment in her childhood, where she struggled to clearly speak certain words and sounds. Not surprisingly, today, her diction and her choice words leave a lasting impact on anybody that’s listening. She is, at this moment, the youngest inaugural poet in history, having performed her very well known poem The Hill We Climb, at the 2021 presidential inauguration. A certain excerpt from the poem stands out clearly for us,
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.
This represents what she embodies as a symbol, especially when we draw a parallel to India, and how here too, amidst diversity, there is the ability to dream, the chance to have and work towards a vision that becomes progressively more ideal.
For this specific reason, to celebrate what she represents to our generation as an enormous symbol of what capable means in this day and age, she is featured here today in the Young Voices Section. Her entire poem, The Hill We Climb; a poem about how every noble cause in the world, is something that, in her own words, can be delayed, but never defeated; a poem about how there is always light if we can find the strength to be it, is reproduced here for you to read.
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.
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*