Amanda Gorman was born in 1998 in Los Angeles. She is the author of the poetry book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (2015). She attended New Roads in Santa Monica and Harvard University, where she graduated cum laude with a degree in sociology. Her art and activism focus on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora.
In 2014 Gorman was named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and in 2017 was named the first US National Youth Poet Laureate. She has performed at many prominent venues, including the Obama White House, the Library of Congress, Lincoln Center, and on CBS This Morning. She has received a Genius Grant from OZY Media, as well as recognition from Scholastic Inc., YoungArts, the Glamour magazine College Women of the Year Awards, and the Webby Awards. She has written for the New York Times newsletter The Edit and penned the manifesto for Nike's 2020 Black History Month campaign. Gorman is the recipient of the Poets & Writers Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, and is the youngest board member of 826 National, the largest youth writing network in the United States. She has two books forthcoming from Penguin Random House.
Gorman is the founder of a non-profit organization called One Pen One Page, which runs a youth writing and leadership program. In 2021, she was selected by president elect Joe Biden to read a poem, “The Hill We Climb” at his inauguration. She lives in Los Angeles.
“The Hill We Climb”
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, 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
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.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
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.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)
Alvin Ailey, Choreographer, activist, and Founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Born on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey became one of the leading figures in 20th-century modern dance. His mother was only a teenager when he was born and his father left the family early on. He grew up poor in the small Texas town of Navasota. Ailey later drew inspiration from the Black church services he attended as well as the music he heard at the local dance hall. At the age of 12, he left Texas for Los Angeles.
As a teen, Ailey studied with renowned dancer, choreographer, and teacher Lester Horton. After three years of performing and training with the Lester Horton Dancers, Ailey became a choreographer and later director of the company when Lester Horton suddenly died in 1953. Equipped with his preeminent training and influence from Horton, Ailey decided to open his own dance company. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) in 1958. He also created ballets for other notable companies including the American Ballet Theatre, Royal Danish Ballet, London Festival Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, and Paris Opera Ballet among many others.
As common practice at the time, Ailey maintained a closeted persona regarding his sexuality but would utilize his art as an outlet for it. His choreographed ballets for AAADT exhibited imagery reminiscent with male and female homosexuality such as juxtaposing same-sex partnering with religious and hypermasculine archetypes. Such examples include AAADT performances of Quintet (1968), Streams (1970), Flowers (1971), and The Mooche (1975). Ailey succumbed to AIDS-related complications on December 1, 1989, at the age of 58. Among his many accolades, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Ailey the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the highest civilian honor, in recognition of his contributions and commitments to civil rights and dance in America.
Despite his untimely death, Ailey continues to be an important figure in the arts through the ballets he created and the organizations he founded. The dancers with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have performed for more than 20 million people around the world and countless others have seen their work through numerous television broadcasts.
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett
Research Fellow and Scientific Lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the NIH, NIAID, and VRC
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett is a research fellow and the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC).
She received a B.S. in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology, in 2008 from the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar. She then enrolled at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014.
A viral immunologist by training, Dr. Corbett uses her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness. Appointed to the VRC in 2014, her work focuses on developing novel coronavirus vaccines, including mRNA-1273, a leading candidate vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19. In response to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine concept incorporated in mRNA-1273 was designed by Dr. Corbett’s team from viral sequence data and rapidly deployed to industry partner, Moderna, Inc., for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Phase 1 clinical trial, which unprecedently began only 66 days from the viral sequence release. Following promising results in animal models and humans, mRNA-1273 is currently in Phase 3 clinical trial. Alongside mRNA-1273, Dr. Corbett’s team boasts a portfolio that also includes universal coronavirus vaccine concepts and novel therapeutic antibodies. Additionally, Dr. Corbett spent several years working on a universal influenza vaccine, which is slated for Phase 1 clinical trial. In all, she has 15 years of expertise studying dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus and coronaviruses.
Along with her research activities, Dr. Corbett is an active member of the NIH Fellows Committee and avid advocator of STEM education and vaccine awareness in the community. Combining her research goals with her knack for mentoring, Dr. Corbett aims to become an independent principal investigator.
Jane Bolin (1908-2007)
The First Black Woman Judge
Jane Bolin became the first Black woman to break down many barriers during her life. However, the title for which she holds the most recognition is that of the first Black woman judge in the country.
Using her position from the bench as a family court judge, Bolin fought against racial discrimination within the system and was a fierce advocate for children, particularly children of color, whose cases she oversaw.
Bolin’s story of legal service and general activism begins at home. Born on April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., her father, Gaius C. Bolin was the first Black graduate of Williams College and had his own legal practice. Bolin was also the founding member of the local NAACP and later in life became the first Black president of the Dutchess County Bar Association.
Bolin attended Wellesley College, the prestigious, private women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts. She was one of two Black freshmen attending the school…where racism was so rampant (and they so ostracized) that the two of them opted to move off-campus. Despite the trials that Bolin faced, she graduated in 1928 as one of the top students and was named a “Wellesley Scholar.”
Jane Bolin would be accepted into Yale Law School, where she would ultimately become the first Black woman to earn her law degree from the esteemed institution. She would later become the first Black woman to join the New York City Bar Association. After her graduation, Bolin apprenticed in her father’s law office. Dismissed by local law firms due to her gender (and likely also her race) she later went on to practice law with her first husband, Ralph E. Mizelle, who later died in 1943.
In 1937, Bolin would be appointed Assistant Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, also breaking the ceiling as the first Black woman attorney hired by that office. Two years later, in a ceremony at the World’s Fair which had just opened, she would be appointed (and sworn in) as a judge of the Domestic Relations Court (now called Family Court) by then-New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, sealing her title as the first Black judge.
As a judge, Bolin led the charge (and change) of breaking down racial barriers and segregation within the system she was a part of. She led the charge of requiring child care agencies that got public funding to accept children regardless of their race or ethnicity. She also ended the practice of assigning probation officers, based on race or religion.
Bolin would be reappointed to her seat by three more mayors, for three more ten-year terms. She only stepped down from the bench when she reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1978, and wasn’t too happy about it, either, quipping, “They’re kicking me out.” Still, even after retiring at the age of 70, Bolin continued to advocate for children’s rights and education. She volunteered as a tutor at New York City public schools for about two years post-retirement and ultimately went on to serve on the New York State Board of Regents.
When she died on Jan. 8, 2007 at the age of 98, she left behind a legacy of a fierce advocate, who despite remaining focused on the work, carved out a decisive path for the representation in the legal system today including the unprecedented number of Black women who were sworn in as judges in Harris County, Texas last year.