Yesterday marked the turning over of a new leaf. A fresh start. A clean slate.
Watching the inauguration, I found myself far more emotional than I expected. Tears sprung to my eyes when I saw Michelle and Barack Obama glide into view. When I saw Hillary and thought of everything that might have been. When J.Lo recited words from the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish in the middle of her performance. When woman after woman—so many of them women of color—stood up to contribute their gifts and words.
Small things set me off, too, like watching the two soldiers step forward and open the doors to the balcony in perfect, choreographed synchrony. Their attentiveness to performing that one simple action demonstrated respect, it signaled ceremony, something sacred. It represented a return to order. Their small, clipped movements reminded me that we’re not completely lost. They gave me faith in my country again in a small way.
And watching Amanda Gorman recite her poem...no one made me cry more. I’m not sure I took a breath the entire time. Even today, watching the video again and seeing her humble reaction to all the attention she received, I’m completely overcome by emotion.
Part of the reason is her poem itself. It was expertly crafted and delivered. It’s more than that, though. The combination of her poise, her confidence, her gestures, her bright, shining, youthful optimism, and the fact that she stood proud as a young Black woman—all of it bolstered the power of her words.
It’s the way she’s been received and immediately recognized for her talent and bravery. It’s seeing how she absolutely stole the show and was applauded by American royalty Michelle Obama. It’s seeing that she gained millions of followers on Instagram over the course of the day.
Thinking about the millions of people who now look up to her as a leader—that’s what makes me emotional. Thinking about the little girls—Black, brown, and white—who see her and aspire to be a writer...that’s what gets me.
For all the harm social media causes, this is the reason I'm still there. At least these platforms offer us the chance to follow beacons of hope, creativity, and progress like Amanda. If my Instagram feed could be full of leaders like her rather than persistent ads and posts making me feel like I’m not enough, I might walk through the world a little differently.
Amanda’s performance on the inaugural stage made her a leader. And if I’ve learned anything from the presidency of 45, it’s that not all leaders are elected, and not all who are elected are leaders.
I’ve been thinking about leadership a lot this year in the Leaders We Follow interview series. When I started it, I chose that name because it has a double meaning: it refers to both following people’s leadership and following them digitally. It reminds me we have a choice in who we walk beside and behind.
We choose who we follow and who we want to guide us.
Since yesterday, I’ve found another leader I choose to follow. I choose Amanda Gorman.
In an amazing interview with Anderson Cooper (who was—somehow, adorably—so taken with her he actually stumbled over his words for a second), Amanda talked about bringing meaning back to words. She spoke about being inspired by the headlines, articles, and tweets released around the January 6th insurrection even more than images. She took the words she read and used them to inspire a message of “hope, unity, and healing.”
That’s the kind of leader I choose to follow, one who is careful about what she says and how she says it. One who repeats this mantra to herself before every performance:
I am the daughter of Black writers.
We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world.
They call me.
In the last few lines of her poem, Amanda told us what we need to do next.
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.
Just as I choose to follow her, I'll choose to take her lead and I'll strive to be a beacon of love and light. I strive to be brave enough.