Last month, when the National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman took the podium at the U.S. Presidential Inauguration and recited “The Hill We Climb,” she transfixed the world with her compelling verse and powerful presence. We listened intently to her passionate plea for unity and her optimistic vision of a “nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.” Gorman immediately became one of the top five searches on Google and garnered the most “average social media interactions” on Inauguration Day, far surpassing President Barack and Michelle Obama—and even Senator Bernie Sanders (with his meme-friendly mittens!). Her books jumped to the top of the Amazon best-seller list.
And today Gorman made her voice heard and her presence felt at another major national ritual when she became the first poet ever to recite her work at the Super Bowl pregame show.
Many groups across our society have proudly laid claim to Gorman. Educators see her as an example of the power of a liberal arts education (Gorman studied sociology at Harvard University). Poets see her as a bridge to their oft-overlooked medium. Activists see her as a stellar ambassador for those who galvanize social and political change. People who struggle with learning and speech impediments see her as a symbol of perseverance and determination.
Her story resonates with me as well. Like many others, I see in Gorman a fellow-lover of the written word and an exemplar of the power of language to inspire and change people. But I also see her as embodying a strong link to my own field: the social sector.
Gorman is both a beneficiary of and contributor to our nation’s vast, dynamic, multifaceted, and inexplicably under-appreciated ecosystem of nonprofits. Day after day, the organizations in this ecosystem do the good work of buttressing our democracy, shoring up our society, and transforming the lives of countless individuals. Indeed, in one of her first post-Inauguration ceremony interviews, with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Gorman paid tribute to the many nonprofits that have helped her. “I’m proud of us, because this really takes a village,” she said. “I have so many supporters, so many organizations that have supported me—whether it be Urban Word, the National Youth Poet Laureate Program, or Write Girl LA, where I got a lot of free creative writing resources when I was that skinny girl with the speech impediment who needed a mentor.”
Urban Word provides a platform for critical literacy, youth development, and leadership to aspiring young writers in New York City; to date, it has supported 250,000 young people through residencies, productions, workshops, and trainings. Most of the youth in its program attend Title I schools (which have large concentrations of low-income students) and reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the city. Urban Word initiated the National Youth Poet Laureate program and has partners in multiple cities across the country. The first such partnership was formed in Gorman’s hometown of Los Angeles. Gorman was named LA’s first Youth Poet Laureate when she was in 11th grade at New Roads School in Santa Monica, California. At the award ceremony for that honor, she recited a poem called “Neighborhood Anthem,” which she said was inspired by her mother, Joan Wicks, a sixth-grade teacher, and by Wicks’s students at a public school in the Watts neighborhood of LA.
Write Girl is an LA-based creative writing and mentoring organization that empowers girls by promoting creativity, critical thinking, and leadership skills; it also helps them with college test preparation and the college application process. Since its founding in 2001, Write Girl has seen 100 percent of its graduating seniors enter college, many on full or partial scholarships. Gorman’s mother enrolled Amanda and her twin sister, Gabrielle, a 2020 UCLA graduate and filmmaker, in the program in 2012. “It’s been thanks to [Write Girl’s] support that I’ve been able to chase my dreams as a writer,” Gorman told The Hollywood Reporter.
Having benefited so greatly from the work of these organizations, Gorman didn’t wait to make her own contributions to the social sector. In 2016, she obtained funding to create a nonprofit called One Pen One Page (OPOP). As she explained in an interview published by The Project for Women:
My mom is an English teacher at an inner-city public school, and it was after seeing the role of literacy in the lives of students of color that I realized how critical it was. I started teaching some creative writing workshops at my mom’s school when I was 15, and I got funding from the HERlead program to add a reading rewards initiative, leadership summit, and online blog to OPOP’s work. Any girl who wants to change the worldshould apply to HERlead!
Originally published in Forbes