Amanda Gorman Exists at Your School Too

As we revel in the young poet’s rising future, don’t forget there are other Black girls across the world who deserve to be uplifted

Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet laureate, astounded America at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, delivering powerful words from her original work “The Hill We Climb.” Adorned in her natural braids and colorful headband, she stood confidently, reciting words of optimism, hope, and inspiration for a better America, a country for which we could all be co-creators.

Now a household name, Gorman also performed her awe-inspiring poetry at the Super Bowl earlier this month, a first for the NFL, an organization that continues to struggle with how it handles issues of racism and injustice. Most notably, the NFL is responsible for keeping Colin Kaepernick, who sparked the conversation of racial injustice into our national discourse, out of a pro quarterback job. The NFL’s gesturing of performative activism was on full display that day, including a performance of the Black national anthem, ironically, a song about Black freedom and liberation, two notable realities still absent from the league.

As the well-deserved adoration of Gorman continues, there is no mistaking her magic and light. She is soaring to new heights under the white gaze of what they perceive is Black exceptionalism. The truth of the matter is that there is an Amanda Gorman at every school in America: A young, Black girl who is curious, creative, and bursting with art that heals the soul. But her school community has neglected, dismissed, and devalued her potential to rise.

This must change.

Historically within schools, Black girls are overlooked and made to feel invisible. The systemic inequities that Black girls face are nothing new, but they are being amplified by new research and data. For example, Black girls are three to four times more likely to be suspended than their White counterparts.

One can also see this criminalization of young Black girls in headlines, most recently when a nine-year-old Black girl was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed. This increased policing of Black girls can be attributed to the adultification of Black girls — thinking that they are older and not seeing them for the children that they are. This thinking leads to a perception that they are in less need of being nurtured, supported, and protected.

This, too, is evident when the invisibility of Black girls is ratcheted up, heightened by their experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. The inherent adultification bias affects learning outcomes for Black girls, where instead of educators focusing on helping them reach their potential, the conversation turns to how they can be boxed in and conform to White, Eurocentric norms.

Black girls are also often hypersexualized in schools, where again they are dismissed, ignored, and not seen as leaders. Hypersexualization includes efforts to police their bodies, ranging from how they dress to how they dance and in dictating how they wear their hair. These interactions become the primary reactions of teachers and administrators and therefore the primary lens through which educators see them.

There is an Amanda Gorman at every school in America: A young, Black girl who is curious, creative, and bursting with art that heals the soul. But her school community has neglected, dismissed, and devalued her potential to rise.

The reality is that the misogynoir and anti-Blackness that Black girls face begins at an early age, with its first introduction often in the classroom at school. Schools and educators will have to confront the anti-Blackness that continually shows up in the fabric of their institutions, from school policies to curriculum and in the overall classroom experience, making Black girls both the shield and the target.

Black girls deserve better. Collectively, we must interrogate how our systems mute and suppress their potential and promise. Individually, we must ask ourselves, do we want Black girls to merely survive, or are we helping them to thrive?

Gorman’s book Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem is now a bestseller, with more copies now in demand. So, as you revel in her wise words and rising future, do not forget that there are other Black girls just like Gorman at your school deserving to be uplifted.

Growing up, Amanda had a speech impairment and was soft-spoken, but she found her voice through writing.

She had joy in her heart waiting to explode.

How is your school community cultivating the next generation of Amanda Gormans?

Black girls are beautiful, brilliant, and worthy. So, instead of sidelining them, support them on their journey. Do not dismiss the manifestation of their possibilities. Stand up for them and encourage them through your words and actions.

Listen to Black girls. Protect Black girls.

Black girls have always been here. Do not erase them. Do not act as if Black girl magic comes only once in a lifetime.

It is time we uplift the next generation of Black girls who are filled with the promise that they will leave an indelible impact on our world.

Diversity expert, consultant, creative, and writer. #LAmade #ColumbiaEducated #RalindaSpeaks, the podcast. Let’s be in conversation.

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