Published May 26, 3023
This Week at Plymouth
By Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“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” —Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb
A few days ago, news came out of Florida that an elementary school in Miami-Dade County banned the poem poet Amanda Gorman recited at the Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021, The Hill We Climb. In the complaint, the person requesting the removal of the now-published work reported that the poem was “not educational” and included “hate messages.” The complainant also argued that the poem’s function was to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.” I searched my memory of hearing the poem, trying to recall any hateful words, claims, or phrases. The complainant pointed to pages 12-13 as containing the offending material. On those pages, Gorman recounts learning that the “norms and notions” of what constitutes justice are not always just but that we collectively have “witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.” That struck a hopeful, gracious note in me. In light of a nation that witnessed the viral video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, overwhelmed by gun violence and mass shootings, and navigating what appears to be a simmering civil war, Gorman still refuses to call our nation broken. Her poem testifies to the belief that we can be and do better.
Perhaps the person complaining about this poem had a different edition from what I was reading, so I looked at the surrounding pages. In those pages, Gorman did refer to herself as a “skinny black girl” and a descendant of the enslaved. She also invited us to think less about perfecting our union and strive “to forge our union with purpose.” I’ve tried in vain to see how any of these words could inadvertently spread hate or cause confusion. However, I recalled just how hopeful and gracious a poet Gorman is. I would not have thought it odd or inaccurate if she had referred to our nation as broken. But she called us unfinished, recognizing our potential to be a more complete, inclusive, and diverse nation.
In the church of my youth, I often heard the adults testify, “I may not be where I want to be, but God is not through with me yet.” They were attesting to their faith in a gracious God who would make a beloved but unfinished creation better and more whole. Maybe the objection to the poem is cynical political maneuvering. However, because I revisited this poem, I have a newfound appreciation for the power of grace. To see ourselves as unfinished rather than broken invites us not to see ourselves as hopelessly unrepairable but to see our potential for growth and progress. That we have within us the power and promise to do better. God is not through with the United States yet. Amen.