Amanda Gorman was seated with her mother between Congressman James Clyburn and Jennifer Lopez on the balcony in front of the U.S. Capitol for Wednesday’s inauguration.
At her mother’s request, Clyburn posed for a photo and chit-chatted with the former youth poet laureate who was about to steal the show a few feet away after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in.
Clyburn told the City Paper that he remembers telling his daughter Jennifer, who accompanied him, that Gorman’s poem seemed to match the time in history.
“Having been on that House floor on the 6th of January when all that took place,” Clyburn said, “I was just sitting there, enthralled at how she captured the moment and turned it into a bit of unfinished business.”
Gorman was reportedly midway through writing “The Hill We Climb” when the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol occurred in the same spot where she would be reading two weeks later, just moments after Biden and Harris took their oaths.
“It was just a magnificent thing to see those two things come together. One from Biden, who is 78 years old, the fact that he was been inaugurated (as) President of the United States, and then her poem, by ‘a skinny Black girl’ dreaming about being president. All of that was just, I thought, providential.”
Clyburn said he already printed out several of Gorman’s poems to study over the weekend.
In “The Hill We Climb,” the 22-year-old L.A. native and Harvard graduate wrote, “For while we have our eyes on the future / history has its eyes on us.”
To that end, Clyburn said he’s tried to guide young people throughout his career, urging them to take initiative and make change.
“You can’t ask permission. You go and do what your head and heart tell are you the right thing to do,” he said. “Frederick Douglass wrote that, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.’ It’s not going to happen. You go out and do it.”