A “skinny black girl who was descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” roused the nation Inauguration day with her poem “The Hill We Climb”.
After President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Amanda Gorman, 22, became the youngest person to read a poem at an opening ceremony.
For many around the world and in the field, Gorman’s achievement was nothing short of transcendent.
In South Euclid, Raja Bell saw Freeman Gorman live on television. The young poet and graduate of Cleveland State University said their common similarities – both 22-year-old African American women who view poetry as a “weapon” for social change – inspired them.
“It was really exciting for me. Knowing she’s my age really inspired me, ”said Freeman. “I’ve had a lot of people stretching out and saying, ‘Oh, she reminds me of you and you could do what you want.'”
The passage in Wednesday’s poem that resonated most with Freeman reads, “With every breath from my bronze chest we will turn this wounded world into a wondrous one.”
“I really felt a connection to it. It’s written very nicely, ”she said. “But the ‘bronze breast’ you know, it felt like it wasn’t just talking about itself. She talked about all of us, a young black girl with young black boys and everyone, you know. It just felt like she was connecting with all of us. “
Other local poets, including Cuyahoga County Poet Laureate Honey Bell-Bey, were equally moved by Gorman’s words. The opening lines of the poem made it clear that Gorman was afflicted by “the pain of some upheaval in this nation,” Bell-Bey said.
“You could hear it, but you could also hear the hope behind it,” said Bell-Bey, who works with young writers. “That really impressed me.”
However, the hope in this poem and the power of these words would be wasted, Bell-Bey said, if it were only meant for a single day.
“It has to go on. And I’m an artist, a poet award winner, who wants to use it with my young students, ”she said. “So it will still have life and relevance in this new era of healing that we are beginning now.”
On inauguration day, Bell-Bey visited Wade Park Elementary School and spoke to dozens of students on her “pickup day” to celebrate Vice President Kamala Harris as the first black woman in the office. It is “young poets” like those students whom Bell-Bey would like to inspire with Gorman’s poems.
“Once you have a platform to use that voice on, it’s nice to see that you have the space to use it,” said Bell-Bey of Gorman’s moment on the national stage. “My bigger overall goal is how do I light a fire among everyone else in order to use their fire? Can I take her words and inspire you to use yours? “
Cuyahoga County Poet Laureate Honey Bell-Bey celebrates Vice President Kamala Harris with students from Wade Elementary School on Inauguration Day. [Honey Bell-Bey]
Gorman’s appearance reminded people that “poetry is still there and active … checking the pulse of culture,” said Eric Odum, youth coordinator at Twelve Literary Arts in Cleveland. The non-profit organization focuses on helping creative color artists.
“As far as seeing a 22 year old black woman on this stage, to have everyone’s attention, to turn the nation’s eyes on her, for her intellect, for her creativity, for her reputation, that we should unite and moving forward together, “said Odum. That is the whole point of my work. The whole point of my work is to cut the bureaucracy, create a foundation, give a boost, whatever, whatever these young voices need to hear and hear authentically, not just listen. “
Eric Odum, youth coordinator at Twelve Literary Arts, said he wanted to give young poets a “boost” so that they could be “authentically heard”. [Eric Odum]
Gorman has called poetry a “weapon” and tool for social change. Freeman, who is also a teaching artist at Twelve Literary Arts, agreed with this sentiment.
“I think it’s the best way, at least for me, to tell what I’ve experienced, to show what I’ve been through and to show what needs to be different. It’s just the best tool, ”she said, adding her impressions of the power of Gorman’s carefully chosen words.
“And that’s a big part of the poetry of being very deliberate with your words and what words you use and knowing what to say and what effect you wanted to have on the people you say it to.”