Today’s poem is by Amanda Gorman, the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. I discovered it this morning when reading Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown and immediately wanted to share it here. Gorman’s realization that her skin color is a “welcome” and not a “warning” is a powerful insight. Today, at age 22, Amanda Gorman is an influential, spoken-word poet and activist championing girls’ education and empowerment. As Tracy K. Smith wrote, “Thankfully there is a new generation of young activist poets whose poems are fueled by the desire not only to describe the world as they know it, but to champion the world as it could or ought to be.“
At the Age of 18 – Ode to Girls of Color
At the age of 5
I saw how we always pick the flower swelling with the most color.
The color distinguishes it from the rest, and tells us:
This flower should not be left behind.
But this does not happen in the case of colored girls.
Our color makes hands pull back, and we, left to grow alone,
stretching our petals to a dry sun.
At the age of 12
I blinked in the majesty of the color within myself,
blinded by the knowledge that a skinny black girl, a young brown teen,
has the power to light Los Angeles all night,
the radiance to heal all the scars left on this city’s pavement.
Why had this realization taken so long,
When color pulses in all that is beauty and painting and human?
You see, long ago, they told me
that snakes and spiders have spots and vibrant bodies if they are poisonous.
In other words, being of color meant danger, warning, ‘do not touch’.
At the age of 18
I know my color is not warning, but a welcome.
A girl of color is a lighthouse, an ultraviolet ray of power, potential, and promise
My color does not mean caution, it means courage
my dark does not mean danger, it means daring,
my brown does not mean broken, it means bold backbone from working
twice as hard to get half as far.
Being a girl of color means I am key, path, and wonder all in one body.
At the age of 18
I am experiencing how black and brown can glow.
And glow I will, glow we will, vibrantly, colorfully;
not as a warning, but as promise,
that we will set the sky alight with our magic.
Learn more about Amanda Gorman in this ‘Today” interview:
Her first book of poetry, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, was published in 2015 by Penmanship Books. You can purchase the book and watch more Amanda Gorman performances on her website.
“At the Age of 18 – Ode to Girls of Color,” by Amanda Gorman, Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.
Photo: L.A. Taco