Amanda Gorman High-Key Slayed at Inauguration 2021

By Andréa Butler

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 22-year-old Harvard University grad Amanda Gorman — who was also the first national youth poet laureate — became the youngest poet ever to deliver an inaugural poem. Written especially for the swearing in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, “The Hill We Climb” speaks of how we, as a country, have waded through the darkness of the past four years, finally finding some source of light, of hope.

Posted up in a bright yellow pea coat and red headband, Amanda also rocked a pair of earrings and a caged bird ring (symbolic of Maya Angelou) gifted to her by Oprah Winfrey. Ushering us into a new chapter of U.S. history with every word, Amanda described how close our democracy had just come to the brink of destruction, but went on to say that now, we’re on the brink of redemption — a long road, still, but a road, as a whole, we’re traveling.

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

- Excerpt from Amanda Gorman's 2021 presidential inauguration poem

Runnin’ it back right quick to the spring of 2017, then 18-year-old Amanda sat down with L’Oreal Thompson-Payton for Sesi to share her story.

The following was originally published as the #BlackGirlMagic column in Sesi’s spring 2017 issue:

There’s no doubt that Amanda Gorman has a way with words. In fact, she’s the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles — and she’s dedicating her craft to making a difference for the people who need it the most.

“I believe that now, especially, is a time where we must use whatever spaces, platforms, or skills at our disposal to stand up for what we believe in,” says the 18-year-old writer and activist. “We cannot afford to be silent or disheartened. Now more than ever, we must utilize our communities and networks to advocate for the rights and protection of marginalized groups because there’s too much at stake.”

We already know that too often the experience of Black girls is overlooked and dismissed, but Amanda personally understands what it feels like to be on the brink of having your voice silenced. As a child, she worked to overcome the challenges of a speech impediment. While she worked, she chose to have her voice heard through her writing, and she encourages all Black girls to express themselves as well, particularly in this era.

“It’s a serious loss that often movements, such as certain waves of what is called ‘white feminism’ or the antiracism/civil rights movements, at times gloss over the needs, experiences, and contributions of Black women,” Amanda says. “Black girls have so much to contribute to social justice causes … We show up. We rise up. We speak up. When Black girls demand a seat at the table and lend their voices to a cause, anything is possible.”

Amanda, herself, has claimed a seat at many a table: In addition to being Youth Poet Laureate, she’s also an ambassador and teen editor for School of Doodle (a platform for teen girls who are artists and activists), as well as the founder of the nonprofit One Pen One Page, an online teen literary magazine dedicated to elevating the voices of young people through writing and creativity.

“My mother is an English teacher in a Watts public school, and that gave me an intimate lens into how illiteracy functions among Los Angeles youths of color,” she says. “As a poet and a storyteller, I wanted to use my own passion for the arts to help provide creative writing opportunities to underserved students.”

How else does she own her #BlackGirlMagic? By simply being unapologetically Black, all the time.

“At school, and through my work as Youth Poet Laureate and director of OPOP, I advocate for the rights and protection of other girls of color. I support my fellow sisters rather than tear them down, and I take the time to appreciate and love everything that makes me a Black girl.”

Main Photo: mccv / Shutterstock.com

sesimag

Quarterly print teen magazine for Black girls ages 13 to 19. Covering The Black Girl's Mainstream™