January 24, 2021—The inauguration ceremony of Joseph R. Biden as President and Kamala D. Harris as Vice President last Wednesday was both historic and inspiring on so many levels. I am excited about the diverse team President Biden has assembled to tackle the nation’s multiple pandemics—COVID-19, racial injustice and the political divide, which led to the riotous storming of the U.S. Capitol. And I am encouraged by the utilization of the arts to echo hope and offer a bridge to unity, as exemplified by the diverse performances of the U.S. Marine Band, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.
In addition to the elevation of Vice President Harris, a woman of both Black and South Asian descent, to the highest position in U.S. government history, the highlight for me was the recitation of the poem The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman. At the age of 22, the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate called to us to “rebuild, reconcile and recover” as we, “diverse people,” work to emerge “battered and beautiful” from the weight of all the pandemics. My favorite section was the end of the poem:
The new dawn blooms as we free it,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it
Amanda’s poem personifies the power of art to be accessible, touch hearts and move us toward hopefulness and the ideals of equity and inclusion. Her poem was not only a dynamic and inspirational call for unity and call to action, but her presentation also was equally fierce. From her golden-hued coat and bright red crown, to the use of her hands to accentuate and punctuate, Amanda showed how the art of poetry can command the entire world to sit up and pay attention. We know this because of news reports that her Instagram followers jumped from 50-thousand to more than two-million after the reading of her poem, and her forthcoming books, which are due in the Spring and Fall of 2021, already have become bestsellers.
Equally fascinating is her personal story: Amanda was born in Los Angeles and raised by a single mother, who is a middle school English teacher. She has two siblings—one of which is her twin sister. Amanda has been writing since she was a young child and used her passion for poetry to overcome a speech impediment.
Inspired by a talk given by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girls’ education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Amanda became a youth delegate to the United Nations at the age of 16. She was named the inaugural Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate in 2014, and published her first poetry collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, the following year. Citing Vice President Harris’s accomplishment as her inspiration, the magna cum laude graduate of Harvard also announced her intention to run for President of the United States in 2036, the first year she is eligible.
Amanda Gorman is an exhilarating and refreshing example of the fearless conviction that words matter; they can influence hearts and change the world.
I have tremendous and unlimited faith in young warriors like Amanda. One thing I know for sure is that it is imperative for all of us to listen to our youth; to give them the platforms to be heard and allow them the opportunities to lead the way. Let’s support and encourage our young artists. Let’s make sure we make available the resources to mentor and foster their development. Let’s be bold enough to run side-by-side with them, and humble enough to stand behind them.
Our country needs hundreds of thousands of Amanda Gormans in every corner of the nation. I urge you to answer the call that Amanda so passionately shared as she stood in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, a building representing a nation still reeling from the pain of the pandemics and the wounds of insurrection.
Let’s be BRAVE; brave enough to become the new dawn.
As always, I’d like to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the section below about the inauguration ceremonies and the role the arts are being called upon to play to help close our nation’s bitter divides.