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You Do Not Find The Next Amanda Gorman By Silencing Black Girls

Trigger Warning – The following article contains videos and images of police brutality against Black girls. I do not post these videos to be salacious. They were painful for me to watch and I do not glorify in Black trauma. However, I find it is important that people not just read what is happening but see what is happening to our Black girls in school.

On January 20, during President Joe Biden’s inauguration, we watched in awe as Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate, took to the stage and spoke truth to power-after January 6, 2021. Amanda Gorman stood and spoke to the nation just days after hundreds of predominately White people stormed the Capitol, waving Confederate flags, reminding us that many in this country will always fight to uphold White supremacy. We watched Amanda Gorman speak truth to power at 22 years old, while grown men and women couldn’t muster up a modicum of courage to call out Donald Trump for inciting a riot. The world paused as this young Black poet stood in her truth and reminded this nation that we could be better if we desired to be better. 

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation

rather than share it

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy

And this effort very nearly succeeded

But while democracy can be periodically delayed

it can never be permanently defeated

Immediately Amanda’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” went viral as a charge to this nation. 

As a poet, I was interviewed about Amanda Gorman. And while my heart beamed with pride, I understood that this nation loves to devour Black greatness without investing in Black excellence. I looked on as an older Black poet and felt this urge to protect what I knew was indeed sacred before this world took what it wanted, gobbled it up, and then spit it all back out. While we all stood in awe, I felt compelled to remind my city that there is an Amanda Gorman in our very own school system of Jefferson Country Public Schools. Amanda Gorman’s exist all throughout this nation. The problem is you don’t see them. As a mother of a Black girl that went through JCPS, I understand how it is to have a Black girl in a school system that doesn’t value Black girls. In a 2019 article, “According to JCPS, suspension rates are three times higher for Black girls than their white peers, and Black girls have the lowest sense of belonging among student groups. That statistic drops even lower after middle school.” I understand one of the first places that will tell Black girls what they can’t be and reinforce that with their actions, is in school. 

However, please know there are Black girls in schools that are phenomenal poets, writers, and speakers. Black girls that dream of being the next Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, or Nikki Giovanni. However, too many White teachers call Black girls loud. They tell Black girls they are unladylike. They tell Black girls they are too aggressive. They tell Black girls to lower their hopes, dreams, and ambitions. They label Black girls as women when they are just girls. They are concerned about how Black girls wear their hair. They never introduce Black girls to authors that look like them who are writing about the things that impact their lives. They create and support an environment where Black girls can be physically abused by those in so-called authority. The curriculum never focuses on Black girls and women and our achievements throughout history. Black girls rarely have the experience of being educated by a teacher that looks like them. Black girls are silenced instead of being encouraged to use their voice. Black girls are hushed instead of being rewarded for standing up. Black girls are told to just be quiet when they dare to challenge antiquated rules. And even when Black girls are silent, they are tossed across classrooms like rag dolls. 

There are countless videos of Black girls being assaulted, tased, body-slammed and assaulted in school. 

This year, I watched in horror as a 9-year-old Black girl was pepper-sprayed by the police. Nine years old. As an adult woman, I have been pepper-sprayed by the police for protesting the murder of Breonna Taylor. It is an experience I will never forget, and I cannot imagine a 9-year-old going through the pain and confusion of being pepper-sprayed. However, in this nation, it seems it is always acceptable to abuse and silence Black girls.  

How do you think this abuse will swallow up their voices? This is what this nation does to Black girls, all while praising Amanda Gorman. 

Understand that you do not get the next Maya or Amanda by silencing Black girls. You do not get the next Maya or Amanda or even Hannah by putting Black girls in a cage. There is something inside of Black girls that will always long to sing no matter how many cages you attempt to put them in. Try as you might, you cannot beat that song out of Black girls. Even a blackbird will sing for freedom, and Black girls were born with a song. Black girls were born with a longing to speak the truth. Black girls are infused with their ancestors’ voices, voices that refused to be silent in times of turmoil.  

When I made my comment that there are Amanda Gorman’s in JCPS it resonated with a local reporter at WLKY who contacted me about a rising poet competition. I immediately supported this effort because I understand that Black girls need to have space to use their voice. Not to be exploited by Whiteness, not to be muted by racism, but to be allowed the space to say what is burning in their hearts!

So sing your song, Black girl. Write your story, Black girl. Know that you deserve to be heard, Black girl. Be loud, Black girl. Shout, Black girl. Speak your truth, Black girl. Don’t let them silence you, Black girl. Be free, Black girl. 

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.Maya Angelou

Additional Readings:

This Is For Those Black Girls

Black Women Do Not Owe This World Shit

I Am Becoming- Over 100 Women Share Their Becoming Journey

9 replies »

  1. Excellent blog post. When you wrote “this nation loves to devour Black greatness without investing in Black excellence” I immediately felt that as a call to action. As an educator, albeit currently at preschool level, I want to explore as many ways as possible to invest in black excellence at primary and secondary education level.

    • Thank you, Laura. I remember when I was in second grade I was so smart they moved me to third grade without ever making a notation that I skipped a grade. Ever. I would do my work so fast the teacher said I cheated. So even at a very young age Black girls are told don’t be too smart. This was, like I said, second grade and I never forgot it. My teachers didn’t celebrate the fact that I was a smart Black girl. They tried to silence a smart Black girl. So even working at a preschool level the work you do uplifting Black girls will be remembered.

      • I am very glad that in your particular case they tried to silence you but did not succeed. Of course, not all children are as determined to find and use their voice in the face of that pushback. All educators need to do better to ensure they never lead another child to even feel silenced.

    • Laura, I’m an educator as well. I, too, saw that as a call to action. We must do all that we can to give our girls a platform for their voice. Someone did the same for us. Let’s do our best to perpetuate a chorus of bold, courageous, eloquent, authentic voices.

  2. Contralto here, and my voice timbre has always felt uncomfortable in White settings. Fortunately, writing allows me to speak “full volume.”

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