“That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it. Because being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
At President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate and youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, took the country’s breath away when reciting her powerful poem “The Hill We Climb.”As her words echoed through Capitol Hill, the passionate fervor she emanated behind the podium could be felt through the television screens of Americans across the nation.
“The Hill We Climb,” through its empowering syntax and resolute rhythmic delivery, perfectly embodied the atmosphere of the inauguration on the steps of the Capitol; the very same steps where a violent insurrection occurred earlier in the month. But on that early afternoon where unexpected flurries softly floated from above, there was no cruel or brutal force to witness. Rather, there was a buzzing anticipation full of hope, relief and ambition shared amongst the crowd.
Gorman’s powerful poem heightened the already present desire to fix what has been done from the previous administration of the last four years to a point where joyful tears were shed. Not only did the recitation highlight the deep fissures that need to be repaired in this country, but it also solidified the strength of spoken word.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not well-versed in poetry; the influence of Gorman’s poem is undeniable. In both of my classes the next day, the initial comments at the start of class centered around Gorman’s poem and the effect it had on the general public. We sat in silence together and watched her historic performance for possibly the first, second, or third time. Afterwards, people described how motivated and hopeful they felt after listening to Gorman’s words. In every sense of the phrase, it was the epitome of a call to action.
Gorman follows in the footsteps of Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander as an inaugural poet, even so far to the point where she wore a ring, gifted from Oprah, bearing a caged bird to honor Angelou and her novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Poetry has a deep history in the United States and continuously acts as a tool to celebrate, reflect, and grieve for countless communities.
If we can recognize the potency and power of a poem recited at the inauguration, why can’t we extend that appreciation to the entire world of the arts and humanities? In all contexts and environments, the arts, no matter the medium or form, deserve to be treated with a high level of respect and understanding. Although you may not be able to fully grasp or comprehend an artwork, you should at least be at a position where you can appreciate the thought and execution that was put forth by the artist.
However, this shouldn’t be limited to the visual arts. Awareness and recognition should be offered to all areas of the humanities including, but certainly not limited to, performing arts, written and spoken word, language, dance, music and history. Now what should that recognition entail? While a foundational appreciation is crucial, there needs to be an intersectional approach when supporting the arts. Acknowledging privilege and disparities in resources, underfunded programs and schools, and racist perceptions of communities is necessary for providing accessible and equal opportunities in the arts.
Nestled in the hearts of communities we are told to stay clear of are beautiful flourishing art centers that cultivate neighborhoods abundant in love, compassion and creativity. The Union for Contemporary Art in North Omaha and El Museo Latino in South Omaha are only a few examples where we can uplift those communities who have been marginalized and overlooked by members of our very own city.
So moving forward, let us ride the words and passionate sentiments of Amanda Gorman by bringing her truths to the soul of Omaha:
“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.”