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Poet Amanda Gorman made a huge impact reading her original poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, but that powerful moment almost didn’t happen. One year later, she admits that she was paralyzed by fear after the events of Jan. 6 on the U.S. Capitol, where the inaugural ceremony was set to take place two weeks later.
In a New York Times op-ed, Gorman reveals that it was more than the insurrection that she struggled with. “I was scared of failing my people, my poetry,” she wrote. “But I was also terrified on a physical level. Covid was still raging, and my age group couldn’t get vaccinated yet.” And her appearance would also be following a year of social justice marches after the murder of George Floyd — so she was concerned about being a Black woman in a “highly visible” role. Gorman added that it’s “a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you’re Black and outspoken and have no Secret Service.”
She wasn’t the only one who was apprehensive: her friends recommended that she “buy a bulletproof vest” to protect herself against gun violence. Her family members also had their own reservations about the big honor because it came with so many possible dangers. “My mom had us crouch in our living room so that she could practice shielding my body from bullets,” the activist shared. “A loved one warned me to ‘be ready to die’ if I went to the Capitol, telling me, ‘It’s just not worth it.’ I had insomnia and nightmares, barely ate or drank for days.”
Even with all of the awful realities of what was happening in America, Gorman shifted her mindset by acknowledging her fear and realizing that courage comes in many different forms. “Maybe being brave enough doesn’t mean lessening my fear, but listening to it,” she wrote. By pushing on, her inspiring words reminded us that “fear can be love trying its best in the dark.”
Yes, there are terrible things happening in our country, but there are also wonderful things to inspire us — like Gorman’s words of honesty, hope and strength. “So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it,” she summed up. “This isn’t a liberation that I or anyone can give you — it’s a power you must look for, learn, love, lead and locate for yourself.”
Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman
Before you go, click here to see celebrity women of color share the first movie or TV character who made them feel seen.
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