American poet Amanda Gorman reads her poem “The Hill We Climb” during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb”

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:

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’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In 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’ve 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 gazes 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. 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 forest 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 it 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. 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 one we were left. With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West. We will rise from the wind-swept 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 in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.

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.

Covid-19, our modern plague, is tragic; but there is an upside for many of us.

Because I have some financial security from social security income, I ‘m able to step back and see over 30 benefits from the pandemic.  I hope this list helps you feel more positive.

Our Collective Experience

  • Globally we are all in this together.  There’s shared humanity
  • World-wide there’s a greater appreciation for front-line workers, teachers, healthcare providers
  • We have global cooperation to find a vaccine
  • More volunteerism
  • Younger people are feeling inspired to create change
  • Underlying inequities in our society have been exposed – in finances, education and healthcare 
  • We had time to watch and reflect on George Floyd’s death – and react
  • There’s increased focus on how to solve the inequities

Impact on Nature

  • By staying at home, we have created less air pollution.  The earth will have a 7% decrease in carbon dioxide this year
  • Nature has begun to heal
  • Plants are healthier 
  • Animals are more abundant
  • The birds are happy

Our Culture

  • As a society, slowing down has made us kinder
  • We’ve had a chance to refocus on what really matters
  • We learned that when working from home many of us are more productive
  • Zoom works well for meetings and gatherings of all kinds and for small group learning
  • We’ve seen an upsurge in new music.  There’s the Rolling Stones’ “Living in a Ghost Town,” plus 5000 songs on the Spotify virus playlist
  • We have greater appreciation for “normal,” such as haircuts, eating out, travel

The Personal Impact

  • Feeling humility in the face of fragility
  • Becoming more patient.  With the uncertainty, I’m learning to take things day by day
  • Feeling more relaxed.  Reduced traffic makes driving less stressful 
  • There’s less pressure – no longer over-scheduling every day
  • Appreciating the quiet and listening to the birds
  • Time to be one on one with friends via zoom, phone calls or walks
  • Getting to better know my neighbors and their children
  • Time to paint, practice the guitar, bicycle, hike, clean the house, cook, garden, and read
  • Finding new TV shows
  • Watching “Conversations with Authors” from Book Passage
  • Thanks to Zoom, taking online classes – yoga, Pilates, sketching, guitar, and gardening
  • Finding new local hikes and bike rides.  Exploring local neighborhoods
  • Making new hiking and biking friends
  • Saving money – no gym dues and reduced restaurant expenses

A Huge Change, But Not All Bad

It’s true our world will never be the same.  So, when you feel discouraged, please refer to this list.  I hope it helps. 

Note: I’m eager to hear your thoughts. What would you add to the list?

Quotes for our Times

  • We wear masks as racism is unmasked.
  • There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen.

In light of George Floyd’s death, let’s focus on the hope that with global attention now on racism and racial injustice, perhaps, this time, citizens and governments will enact policies to address the underlying issues. 

Economic Inequality

A key underlying issue is the economic inequality between blacks and whites in America.  The data is vividly presented in the June 4, 2020 Washington Post article, “The black-white economic divide is as wide as it was in 1968.”

For example:

·       You would have to combine the net worth of 11.5 black household to get the net worth of a typical white U.S. household.

·       The economic disadvantage is as bad or worse than it was before Civil Rights, 70 years ago, according to an economist at Federal Financial Analytics.

·       Many white parents pass on wealth giving their children economic advantages.  Most black families have no accumulated wealth to pass on.

·       Even less educated Americans have a leg up.  A white household headed by someone with a high school diploma has almost 10 times the wealth of a black family with the same education. 

·       Since the pandemic is hitting low-income workers hardest, it is increasing inequality.  The first victims of the Corona Virus were in the service industries that employ a disproportionate number of black and brown workers.  This spring, after the “lockdown, fewer than half of black adults had a job.  Black workers are least likely to hold jobs that they can do from home.

·       More than twice as many black businesses as white businesses were forced to close during the pandemic.

·       More than 1 in 5 black families report they often or sometimes do not have enough food.  That’s more than three times the rate for white families. 

·       Healthwise, black Americans have suffered higher hospitalization and death rates from the Corona Virus than whites.  Paying hospital bills adds to the precarious financial position of these Americans.

·       African American college students have struggled to graduate because financial burdens often force them to drop out. 

·       Then there are the inequalities in the job market.  Black men make 75% of what white men earn, according to the Labor Department.

·       Black workers are less likely to be called in for an interview if a hiring manager can tell from a resume that the applicant is black. 

·       Studies have shown that black loan applications are less often approved.  Black home ownership is 44% compared to 74% for whites.

Next Steps

There are signs of hope, especially among some younger people who say they are willing to make sacrifices in order to have greater justice and equality.  

There’s a great deal to learn about the problem.  My book club is now reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo.  Getting educated is a good place to start. 

Then, let’s enact legislation to provide all Americans education, housing, healthcare and other essentials needed for a multi-racial democracy with equality and justice for all.