‘History has its eyes on us’

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

I was excited to hear Amanda Gorman deliver her inaugural poem‘The Hill We Climb’ on January 20, 2021. “History has its eyes on us,” indeed. You can read and hear it here.

How did she come to give this address? From the Library of Congress site on that notable day: She had performed an original poem, “In This Place (An American Lyric),” at U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith‘s 2017 inaugural ceremony… “It was this very performance that led First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to select Gorman as inaugural poet.

“Dr. Biden ‘stumbled upon’ a video of Amanda’s performance, which ultimately led to a Zoom call between Dr. Biden and Gorman in which the latter was asked to serve as inaugural poet. During the meeting, Dr. Biden complimented the yellow dress Gorman wore at Smith’s inaugural ceremony, which inspired her to wear a yellow dress at President Biden’s inauguration…”

“Educators have also been quick to seize on a unique opportunity to introduce poetry in a relatable way to their students. Lesson plans for  ‘The Hill We Climb’ are already available through PBS and The New York Times.”

When a Florida school barred its use for younger children, it disappointed me, but Amanda Gorman felt “gutted.”

The poem “was challenged by the parent of two students at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, along with several books.”

The poet wrote:  “’Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.’

“Gorman, who at 17 became the country’s National Youth Poet Laureate, said she wrote the poem… so ‘all young people could see themselves in a historical moment,’ and that she’s received countless letters and videos from children who were inspired to write their own poems.”

What’s the issue?

I don’t know what parts of the poem were considered too sophisticated for younger kids. We Are Teachers made several points. The complaint “shows at best a concerning level of reading comprehension, at worst an acceptance of casual racism.” Oprah Winfrey wrote the foreward, not the book.  

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn’t broken

but simply unfinished

Kids are a lot smarter than some grownups understand. Maybe it’s:

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

How bad can the words be to a generation of kids growing up with active-shooter drills in school?

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

Love is what we need

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