If we can keep our republic together, Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” will join the pantheon of the most important words spoken in its name. Not because our celebrity culture anointed Ms. Gorman as a star. Not because we were awed by her talent and her words. But because we will have lived them:
“We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us”
The audacity of these words, in this moment, is breathtaking. Since last March nearly half a million people in the United States have died from Covid-19. We are beset with record unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity, isolation and mental stress, learning loss, grief, polarization. The inequities and divisions that plague America have deepened. Cynical lies and twisted conspiracy fantasies have overwhelmed objective fact in the minds of millions. And just two weeks before Ms. Gorman spoke on the Capitol steps, domestic terrorists and avowed racists had attempted a violent coup in the exact same spot, incited by a president who was trying to overturn an election.
With all of that weight, how were we to “lift our gaze?”
The answer came a few lines later:
“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…”
Grief and growth. Hurt and hope. Tired and trying. Of the millions of words written and spoken since last March, these best captured the peril and promise of our times. In them we heard not just a singularly brilliant poet. We heard a most relevant voice of the American experience: A 22-year old self-described “skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother.” Hers was a voice distinctly qualified to resanctify the place where she stood, to reflect clear-eyed on our unfinished experiment, to lift our gaze not despite the struggle but because of it.
That’s what we have seen in New Hampshire — people and organizations lifting their gazes against impossible odds for each other and for community. It was true last March. It was true in January. And it will be true in the uncertain months ahead, as our communities continue to face complex and multi-layered challenges and as too many people continue to struggle against deep inequities and systemic barriers to opportunity.
As New Hampshire’s community foundation, we will strive to meet the peril and keep sight of the promise, to live the grace and courage of her words.