By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
It’s been a little over a week since Amanda Gorman captivated us all at United States Capitol with her words during the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Madame Vice President Kamala Harris and became an international household name in the process.
Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” seemingly parted the cosmos just two weeks after thousands of White terrorists laid siege to the very building she stood in front of. And I’m still trying to wrap my mind around her brand of Black excellence.
I remember glimpsing her prior to the start of the inauguration and thinking, Whose beautiful child is this? With her sparkling coco skin and slim physique, she must have been the teenage daughter of one of the “dignitaries,” I thought. But, in reality she was a 22-year old grown woman, uniquely dignified.
And she was there to slay in every way.
“When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast,
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn’t always justi-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.”
She saged what they sieged. A Black woman cleaning up White mess yet again.
I just sat there transfixed, mouth agape, eyes welling with tears. I realized at that moment that Queen Gorman was perpetuating a tradition of Black woman spoken word prowess I had witnessed first hand for decades, intimately, in person right here in Baltimore.
Spoken word warriors, spoken word gods. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God…”
They are: Lady Brion, Kezia Snipe, Shelly Washington, Rebecca Dupas, Mecca Verdell, Gayle Danley, Olu Butterfly, Bathsheba Smithen.
Before them I heard: Tracey Morris, Jessica Care Moore, Jaki Terry, Nzinga Ama.
And before them I heard: Mother Maria Broom, Mother Mary Carter Smith, Mother Lucille Clifton, Mother Nikki Giovanni, Mother Sonia Sanchez.
And 28 years earlier prior to Gorman’s rise, on the morning of Jan. 20, 1993, there was Mother Maya Angelou who during the inauguration of Bill Clinton threw down the gauntlet with her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.”
They are the collective wave of Oshun, the Daughters who never ebb, only flow. And they swept Gorman to that glorious moment in the wake of catastrophe wrought by those who scoff at her radiance. Yet, there she stood all right angles of chocolate light giving the world the Word.
“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.”
In 1963, when Dr. King spoke of his Dream in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he may have visualized Gorman almost 60 years later standing in her truth in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
In 1968, when Dr. King peered from the Mountaintop in Memphis, the day before he was murdered and talked about the Promised Land, perhaps he visualized Gorman’s shining visage and her ruby red crown.
“We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
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.”
Amanda Gorman is Everything.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.