Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Hill We Climb – Amanda Gorman Finding Voice and Inspiration for Conflict Resolution and Peace

On January 20th , 2021, the inauguration for President Joseph Biden happened in the midst of unprecedented challenges for our nation. With COVID 19 laying wreck and ruin to so many of our rituals, and the deeply divisive action of those who invaded the Capitol on January 6th , it seemed this ceremony couldn’t possibly be based in reality and still inspire imagination. However, regardless of political affiliation, many in our country heard an invitation to refocus future days for our communities with a call for unity. As a conflict resolution educator, I tuned my ear and heard language of finding peace and common interest, even when coming from different positions. This message came through in speeches, music, and most profoundly in poetry. The poem written and delivered by 22 year-old, Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman is what rang through the clearest, the longest and strongest to me. I have joined the millions of Americans who have been forever touched and awed by her brilliance. Full confession – I’m a super fan now! 

I had the opportunity to work with a middle school leadership class in Los Angeles California the week after the inauguration. The school is working “at a distance” and so my guest speaker spot was hosted via Zoom. The topic of the class was challenging students to “find the power of your own voice”. It was a gift to be able to lean into the words and delivery of Amanda Gorman to unpack this topic with the group. Her poem “The Hill we Climb”, is full of poetic devices of structural, grammatical, rhythmic, metrical, verbal and visual elements. It brings new images to life each time I read it. I was not surprised that the middle school students I shared the poem with were also moved by her words. They were fully engaged in discussing and reflecting on her message, even given the challenges of working and being in discussion online.

I started the class with viewing Amanda delivering her poem without any written words at hand. I asked students to share what they heard, what they felt, and what they wondered in the Zoom chat or aloud with mics on. Without hesitation, students jumped in to describe catching Amanda’s words of hope and a call for peace and respect. Students also saw her message grounded in reality with references to the conflicts facing our nation now. The next step was asking students to find specific phrases or words in the poem that matched the topics that they suggested and defined from the first viewing/hearing (which were hope, peace, and respect). Students were given the written text of the poem and we used a shared an electronic interactive “board” (Padlet) to give students a chance to process and analyze the words that evoked the responses they felt from the oral reading. Students found they were able to verify their feelings, citing the precise word choices of the author. The emotions that lingered clearly came from the words she crafted so thoughtfully.

The phrases that linger for me summarize our call to take up the work of peaceful conflict resolution: “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all.” ( There is the mighty power in the young voice that speaks of peace.

The following is a small sample of the responses and excerpts from The Hill We Climb, shared from the middle school participants.

Johnathan - "If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy."

Bianka - "We must first put our differences aside."

Valeria - "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace."

Ashlyn - "With every breath of my bronze pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one."

      Halyn - "Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?"

About the author...

Karen DeVood is a member of the Online Peer Mediation Team Platform and a professor at California State, Fresno in Los Angeles, California.

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