Amanda Gorman stole the thunder at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 with both her inspirational poem, “The Hill We Climb” and its dramatic and moving delivery. Although not the first Black woman to deliver an inaugural poem, Gorman was by far the youngest.
The second line of her poem “where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” aptly sums up the social unrest in the USA during the Black Lives Matter Movement and the recent storming of the US Capitol by Donald Trump’s white supremacists supporters. America definitely needs light, a new vision and healing, and Amanda Gorman’s poem and performance illuminated all of that, eclipsing another historical moment, that of Kamala Harris becoming the first Black/Indian woman to be elected vice president.
Though social media cannot get enough of Gorman, what her articulate, socially conscious, well-groomed awareness signifies for me, is something that I have known, advocated for, and taught, since the mid-1980s while I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the United States: that is the power and importance of poetry.
Young people, young black people, need to be celebrated. For decades, even while coordinator of the Alameda county Poetry in the Schools programme, I have sought to provide a platform for Jamaica’s own Amanda Gorman, not just for special occasions, but for sustained growth and development of our young poets and writers in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. For the last 10 years I have sought funding to produce a biannual creative journal dedicatedly for children, because there isn’t one in the region.
We say it takes a village to raise a child and that children are the future but we simply pay lip service to these maxims. It is time to put action to our words and establish a base for our children to develop properly and especially in the creative industry. In these times when atrocious crimes are perpetrated against our children and youth, they must be offered a space in which they can fully express themselves, their feelings about society, and for dialogue with other Caribbean youth. It is way past time for Jamaica and the whole Caribbean to place greater emphasis on our young women and men.
As a poet, I am hoping that the excitement about Amanda Gorman will inspire a Caribbean philanthropist to support the creation of a journal for Caribbean youth, that supports our collective educational goals, reading and writing, social studies, and critical thinking skills. This person would understand that Jamaica and the Caribbean have produced internationally acclaimed poets such as Louise Bennett, Lorna Gordon, Mervyn Morris, Kamau Brathwaite and myself.
An ongoing creative writing programme centred on youth that would mainstream and feature our young people on a regular basis in order to help them develop their craft and gain exposure would be ideal. A television programme in the vein of Rising Stars, for poets is a dream of mine.
Let us not do to this moment, this opportunity, that which we have become accustomed: letting it slip away. Let us seize this moment to give the amazing poets and writers that Jamaica has produced a chance to shine and provide for them, a platform to perform. I invite you to help me make this happen by creating a nurturing space for children and youth. Let’s get this train moving.