By Noel J. Jacobs, PhD
(Title adapted from The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman, excerpt taken from spoken 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 (Amanda Gorman’s self-introduction in the first stanza of her poem, read aloud at the 59thUS Presidential Inauguration, January 20, 2021).
(From the Poem – link to full transcript below):
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried, that we’ll forever be tied together victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare. It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
Read that slowly. Say it aloud. And again. This is the poetry of a 22-year old woman who has lived centuries into those words, that perspective. She encapsulates spectacular, poignant, knife-sharp hope and scorched-earth explosive power into a few minutes of spoken word, before the newly sworn President and Vice-President, and millions upon millions of Americans. It is life. It is air, and water, and nourishment, which should cause us to cry in sorrow and cry in joy both, as well as commit to the cause behind it.
The communities historically harmed by racism and bigotry were themselves often either left out of the conversation entirely or further harmed by the actions of others, as national conversations and shouting matches raged over the past five years. Amanda Gorman’s words were not ready then. Are we ready for them now? We should be.
Here we are as Americans in this moment, ready for change, watching it happen, and also ready to “get on with life again.” Yet with over 400,000 of our fellow Americans gone forever at the hands of a willing virus and an unwilling public support system, we are actively mourning while we try to find or get to work, pay bills, raise our children with a mix of anxiety-provoking in-person school and anxiety-provoking virtual school programs. Learning has suffered, work has suffered, marriages and individuals have suffered. Everyone I know, including myself, is fatigued and struggling at times. And our national work to bring all communities to the table and help see a better life for all feels not only stalled but sometimes set back, hours, weeks, centuries. Are we ready to fulfill the potential of Amanda Gorman’s prophetic words? Right now? There is no better time. Take in that air and water, that nourishment, that flows from the words of a descendant of slaves who grew up to write poetry for the new President and our entire nation. And let’s follow her vision. Together.
Read the entire poem’s transcript here,
or find the video of her presentation at the Inaugural Ceremony on YouTube.
Dr. Noel Jacobs is a local child psychologist, President of The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, and Program Director for The Respect Diversity Foundation. He writes for several groups and dedicates his free time to those who also want respect, justice and well-being for all.