“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” – Amanda Gorman
How do you react when you’re faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge?
Every individual on earth faces challenges unique to them as they navigate through life. There is no exception to this, and there is no quick cheat to make the challenges you face easier. We each must understand these challenges and learn how to overcome them. To some, this means avoiding the challenge completely or finding a way to navigate life without being held back by these challenges. For the incredible poet Amanda Gorman, however, her challenges became her greatest source of strength.
Not only has Amanda inspired entire generations to make their voices heard, but she has been trampling obstacles and making history every step of the way. In this article, we discuss Amanda’s beginnings and foray into changing history, both with her writing and her incredible story.
Amanda’s Beginnings and Overcoming Challenges
How do you approach an obstacle in your way that seems impossible to overcome? You would not be alone if you answered, “run in the other direction.” Life is full of challenges that frighten or even discourage us, and while it’s healthy to know when to draw your own boundaries, hearing about someone who has not only overcome her obstacle but turned it around to be her greatest strength is truly inspiring.
That is exactly what Amanda Gorman did when she became the youngest inaugural poet in United States history.
Gorman and her two brothers were raised by their Los Angeles-born single mother, Joan Wicks, a sixth-grade English teacher. Gabrielle, her twin, is a filmmaker and activist. Gorman has stated that she had little access to television while growing up, describing herself as a “strange child” who was encouraged by her mother to read and write instead.
Due to an auditory processing impairment, Gorman is highly sensitive to noise. She spent several years as a child working to overcome her speech impediment. However, Gorman never considered her speech impairment as a flaw — rather, she saw it as a gift and a strength.
What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?
About 3–5% of school-aged children have a hearing issue known as auditory processing disorder (APD), which is a condition where children have difficulty understanding speech and other sounds. This is due to a lack of synergy between their ears and brain. Something impedes the brain’s ability to identify and make sense of sounds, particularly speech.
Children with APD can thrive in school and in life if they are given the tools to do so. However, diagnosis at an early stage is crucial. A child’s chances of developing listening and learning difficulties at home and school increase if the condition is not diagnosed and treated early.
Hearing individual sounds presented in complete silence is a good indicator that a child with APD has normal hearing. The problem is that individuals have trouble hearing the subtle variations between word sounds, even when those sounds are presented clearly.
These kinds of difficulties typically arise in a poor listening environment, like a noisy social gathering or a reverberant public space like an auditorium. Children with APD may have difficulty following conversations in more boisterous settings such as classrooms, playgrounds, sports events, school cafeterias, and parties.
Turning Her Weaknesses Into Strengths
In 2018, as reported by The Harvard Gazette, Gorman said, “I always saw it as a strength since I was experiencing these obstacles in terms of my auditory and vocal skills. I became really good at reading and writing. I realized that at a young age.”
Gorman revealed to CBS This Morning co-host Anthony Mason in 2021 that she employed musical compositions in the service of speech therapy, explaining, “The song “Aaron Burr, Sir” from Hamilton was my favorite to practice since it had so many ‘R’s.’ I thought, “Well, if I can keep up with Leslie (Odom Jr.) in this track, then I’m getting closer to being able to express this ‘R’ in a poem.” – Amanda Gorman
Instead of accepting her fate and settling with the fact that she will have a speech impediment, Amanda chose to see her greatest challenge as her greatest strength. Such an amazing outlook is truly an inspiration and should propel anyone with obstacles (that’s every single one of us) forward to accomplish any goal we set for ourselves, even when things get in our way.
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Developing Her Craft and Honing Her Voice
From kindergarten through high school, Gorman was a student at the Santa Monica private school New Roads. By the time Gorman was five years old, she was waking her mother up early because she needed paper for school. Another early exposure to poetry that sparked her interest was Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” which she read in third grade. “At the time, poetry wasn’t something that was taught vigorously in my courses,” Gorman explained in 2021, “so I really started composing it before I started reading it.”
Gorman discovered and fell in love with Sonia Sanchez’s poetry while she was a middle schooler. She felt a deeper connection to poetry after reading several selections from Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. At this time, her passion for writing was nurtured by teachers from the non-profit group WriteGirl.
Gorman was recognized as Los Angeles’s Youth Poet Laureate when she was only 16 years old. In 2017, she was appointed the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate. Her mission with her organization One Pen One Page is to inspire young people to read, write, and draw.
During her senior year, she applied for and was awarded a scholarship from the Milken Family Foundation. She attended Harvard University, where she majored in sociology and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with the highest honors in 2020.
The themes of oppression, feminism, race, marginalization and the African diaspora are central to Gorman’s artwork and activism. She claims that Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate, encouraged her to become a United Nations student representative in 2013.
In 2014, Gorman became Los Angeles’s first youth poet laureate. As of 2015, her poetry collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough was available for purchase.
Leaving an Imprint on History, Again, and Again, and Again…
Amanda made history in 2017 when she was the first author to be chosen as the XQ Institute’s Book of the Month — a monthly giveaway meant to spread the word about the works that have inspired Gen Z. She has also signed a two-book deal with Viking Children’s Books and has already written a homage to black athletes for Nike. Keep in mind this is all before the age of 20 years old!
Accolades Upon Accolades
After reading her poetry on MTV, Gorman again made history in 2017 by being the youngest poet ever to launch the Library of Congress’ literary season. In April of the same year, Gorman became the first individual ever to be appointed National Youth Poet Laureate. There were five other contenders, but she was the title winner.
Gorman first expressed her desire to be the future president in 2017, and she has repeated this goal numerous times since then. When she was named one of Glamour magazine’s 2018 College Women of the Year, she commented, “Seeing the ways that I, as a young black woman, can inspire people is something I want to continue in politics. I don’t want to just speak words; I want to turn them into realities and actions.”
Her desire to run for president in 2036 was met with echoes of support across the nation. Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for Gorman’s 2036 goal after she performed her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
Soaring to Presidential Heights
Amanda followed in the footsteps of literary greats like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou on the 20th of January 2021, when she became the youngest poet in US history to read at a Presidential inauguration. She had the respect of Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton, before they were even in office.
The unique conditions under which the scaled-down, socially-distanced celebrations took place — during the height of a global pandemic and a time of war and division in the United States — made them all the more moving. The appearance of the young poet was immediately memorable among the celebrity acts, prayers, and speeches shown on television.
After violent pro-Trump protesters erupted on the Capitol on January 6, Gorman made some last-minute alterations to her poetry in the days immediately up to the inauguration. She expressed her aim to “speak to a new chapter and age for our nation” by telling the Washington Post, “My hope is that my poetry will signify a moment of unity for our country.”
A poem full of hope, “The Hill We Climb” by Gorman describes the arrival of “a country that is bruised, but whole, benevolent, but bold, fierce, and free,” and concludes, “For there is always light.” The poem addresses ongoing divisions and struggles by referencing “a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it” and was met with universal praise following its’ release.
The Inspiration of a Generation
Every once in a while, an individual comes along who truly makes a difference. We won’t name-drop past inspirational figures who have made it into history books, but by the young age of 22, Amanda Gorman has already secured a concrete place among them. She was already changing the world before 2021, but her inaugural poem cast her into the spotlight for years to come, allowing her to inspire young people everywhere.
No obstacle is entirely insurmountable. These challenges that we face in life can seem daunting at first, but through Amanda’s story, we can see that by turning our greatest challenges into strengths, anything is possible.
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