The Handbook
The Handbook

For those of you who tuned in to the inauguration, you’ll have seen the glitterati out in force. There was Lady Gaga with a demure dove emblazoned on her chest and J Lo making an appearance with her dulcet tones. But of all these heavyweight Hollywood stars, the person who caught our attention was the 22-year old poet Amanda Gorman.

With her statement red headband, glistening braids and bright yellow jacket, Amanda swept on stage full of hope and optimism. She stepped up to the plinth to recite a poem for Biden’s welcoming ceremony and by the time she finished, we started to wonder if we could swap her in for president. She’d be excellent.

But who is she?

Amanda is America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate. She was born and raised in Los Angeles by her mother, a teacher called Joan Wicks, along with two siblings, including her twin sister Gabrielle. And while you might think she has always had this insane confidence and clarity with public speaking, she actually had a speech impediment as a child (so did Biden as it happens).

However, her mother actively encouraged her to read and write, and Amanda soon learnt to teach herself how to say sounds and pronounce words clearly. This, she says, gave her a heightened understanding of the auditory experience (aka made her really good at what she does). 

She was awarded a scholarship to study sociology at Harvard and while there, she was the first person to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.

Numerous book deals have been signed, she’s performed for everyone from MTV to the Library of Congress and her fans include Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Morgan Freeman… the list goes on. Her first book of poetry, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, was published in 2015.

If that wasn’t enough, she also started her own nonprofit organisation One Pen One Page, which runs a youth writing and leadership program. Have we mentioned how much we love her?

Amanda and Michelle Obama hug at the inauguration. Serious friendship goals.

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.

What did she say?

She delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb” with the most eloquent diction and the finest hand movements. No, really. It was like watching a conductor of a national orchestra – so floaty and mesmerising.

Her work normally focuses on issues of oppression, feminism, race and marginalisation, and as she took to the microphone, she didn’t shy away from these topics. She started with: “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.” It’s empowering stuff.

She waved goodbye to Trump

She had a subtle poke at the Trump administration. “Let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with,” she recited. And went on to say, “We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. This effort very nearly succeeded.”

But reassured us that “while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”

She was not afraid to highlight injustice

There were subtle nods of acknowledgement to Black Lives Matter and the racial segregation that has become so apparent through the demonstrations, petitions and press over the past few months. She said: “We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters, and conditions of man.”

She filled us with optimism

And finally, she ended her speech to rapturous applause with the line: “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.”

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that there is always something to hope for, whether that’s a new year, a new vaccine or a clean slate. And while we were crying at the TV through the emotion of what we’ve all been through, people like Amanda epitomise that hope, and give us something to look forward to. To end on Amanda’s words: “Love becomes our legacy”.

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