“Teachers affect posterity / They know not where their influence stops…”
These are the opening lines of a poem this writer was inspired to pen many years ago (titled, “The Teacher”). The eternal truths captured in this one poetic stanza were on full elegant display when the youngest national poet laureate in US history took center stage at a world event on January 20th – the inauguration of a US president.
Joan Wicks, the proud mother of 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, is a teacher by profession. According to reports the recommendation for Amanda’s inclusion in the inauguration program was made by another teacher (First Lady Jill Biden); and with her inauguration performance Ms. Gorman has now become a newly minted, internationally renowned teacher in her own right.
The background of this deep chocolate African American beauty is inspiring. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and had to struggle early on (with the determined support of a single mother) to overcome a speech impediment. “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be,” she noted in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Amanda became the youth poet laureate for Los Angeles at the tender age of 16. Three years later – while studying sociology at Harvard University – she was named “National Youth Poet Laureate.” Already a published author, she is said to be working on another book scheduled for release later this year, in shaa Allah (God willing).
According to reports, this talented young socially committed artist was about halfway through the composition of her poem for the inauguration when the violent January 6 insurrection took place on Capitol Hill. The shocking events of that day accelerated its completion. As she described the process in a CNN interview: “It was like someone pressed the on-switch in my brain. I finished the rest at home that night.” And further, “As I was crafting this piece, it was really trying to communicate a message of joining together and crossing divides.”
In “The Hill We Climb” she wrote:
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.
This is what makes this young poet so special; a wise, centered, activist-oriented idealism. When the changing of the political guard takes place in US presidential elections, the inaugural ceremony (more often than not coming in the wake of a bitterly contested political process) is traditionally billed as a “call to national unity.” While primarily symbolic, this year’s call carried far greater urgency!
The nation is dangerously divided, courtesy of a former US president (along with highly positined supporters) who deliberately incited “unprecedented” mob violence in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021; and then refused, in equally unprecedented fashion, to participate in the inaugural ceremony of the incoming president! If America is to have a real chance at changing the self-destructive course that it’s been on for far too long, it will be through determined, young, visionary activists.
Amanda Gorman is highly perceptive and very much aware of the intrinsic power of her people’s struggle. She reportedly recites the following mantra before every poetry performance to gather herself: “I am the daughter of Black writers, who are descended from Freedom Fighters, who broke the chains who changed the world. They call me.”
To be continued…
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
Here are two short introductory clips on this exceptional young poetess: