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Dos Cabezas by Klee Paul, 1932

“A Return to Joy!” That’s what I was going to blog about today after watching the horror of the January 6th insurrection, and then savoring every minute of the Biden/Harris Inauguration celebrations on January 20. But it’s not that simple, is it? So much work is yet to do to create the lasting joy we need. And back to normal simply isn’t enough.

One the highlights of that day for me and so many others was Amanda Gorman’s recital of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” which went viral. It was a soulful and soaring oration that inspire so many of us with hope for the future, a new generation.

She starts out by asking “where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” and reminding us of “the loss we carry, a sea we must wade.” She reminds us that “quiet” isn’t always “peace” and the norms we accept as what “just is” isn’t always “just-ice.”

And yet she claims the “the dawn is ours,” and despite all we’ve “weathered and witnessed” what we’re left with is “a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”

She ends her poem on a high clear clarion call:

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms 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

It’s uplifting hopefulness stirred our hearts. It was the “light” we’ve been craving after four years of “darkness.” We needed to know that there are young people like Amanda who will pick up the torch and move our nation forward.

Not long after the inauguration, I watched another video gone viral, this time of the young rapper Marlon Craft reciting his song “State of the Union.” His vision of America was starker, darker, more painful to hear. He too pointed out hard truths.

How “The state of the union is that there isn’t one /If a house divided can’t stand.”

How “fake superiority created by authority” convinces the poorest “he still one caste up, cause at least you not black.”

How “to keep you off track” when “the elite eat on the backs of your labor, you point at your neighbor—instead of up.”

How we talk about “generational wealth, But outside making money for ourselves, We won’t give the next generation no help,” and “It may already be too late to save the f—ing planet.”

He asks: “How many of us really choose our own thoughts and vices?” and “Who knew algorithms would really dictate what we cheer?” and “Can you track your opinion to it’s origin?”

He notes that while “white liberals” may “acknowledge their privilege, “they aint givin’ it up.” And how “You can’t abuse populations, leave ’em destitute and vacant and then ask them to care /About anything but their next move.”

He warns:

Truth is if not for COVID, Trump would’ve won re-election in a landslide
So we evaded armageddon, for good old store brand oppression
But if a leader more savvy, and less sociopathic with true fascist aspirations come along, it’s gon’ be tragic
74 million proved if the right rhetoric is used
We could end up on the wrong side of World War II 2

And to defeat white supremacy, you gotta first want to defeat white supremacy
I don’t think most of us really do

It was always gon’ get worse ‘fore it got better
Racism was never gon’ go quietly to the night

But Marlon, like Amanda, ends on a hopeful note and brings it back to each of us:

I do believe that [racism] along with greed, can make it’s way out of our institutions so that all are free one day
I ain’t say that it will,

It depends what we do, there’s only one person the future starts and ends with
It’s you

We have to clearly delineate the problem before we can fix it, and these two young people, one black and one white, a poet and a rapper, are doing it for their own generation as well as for us.

The torch that many of us carried for so long is being handed off. And as dark as this current moment in history is with more people lost to Covid in ten months than were lost in WWII in 4 years, with our country painfully divided across party lines, with racial and economic inequity putting a strangle hold on so many families, with raging wildfires and hurricanes and a planet in peril, these two artists give me hope for the future.

They are creating the kind of art that makes all the difference: Shining a light in the darkness so we can see our way forward.

A transcript of Amanda’s poem “The Hill We Climb”

The lyrics of Marlon’s “State of the Union”