By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The brightness of her yellow coat foreshadowed the light she would shine through spoken word.

Amanda Gorman, 22, is the first United States Youth Poet Laureate. And on Wednesday, she became the youngest inaugural poet ever.

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“We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one,” Gorman said.

Her poem was a moment of pride for young women, people of color and those passionate about poetry. Tish Jones is founder and executive director of TruArtSpeaks in St. Paul.

“I was wowed, I was floored. I’m so happy for young people and what’s possible for young people,” Jones said. “Our work really looks at the intersection between arts, civic engagement, youth development and education.

The nonprofit gives youth a place for artistic expression while cultivating leadership skills and a drive for social justice. Much of that comes through poetry. TruArtSpeaks holds a yearly poetry competition to declare a St. Paul Youth Poet Laureate. It started in 2017 with poet Donte Collins being the first winner. The competition had to take a break in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Gorman became the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate at age 16. Three years later, she became U.S. Poet Laureate.

“Amanda is such a shining beacon and example of what is possible with practice, hard work and the study of your craft,” Jones said. “To see it on that stage, that grand of a stage, and for it to be a young black woman, I think that there was a renewed sense of excitement.”

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Amanda Gorman (credit: CBS)

Given Gorman’s talents at public speaking, it might come as a shock that she grew up with a speech impediment. She said she struggled pronouncing words with the letter ‘r.” That she became the U.S. Poet Laureate is another reason Jones feels Gorman is so inspiring. Several young people in TruArtSpeaks have had similar challenges.

“That habitual practice of doing that work, vocal exercises can help a person sort of move through that experience and overcome those things differently,” Jones said.

Gorman’s speech didn’t just touch young people. Josie Johnson, a Minnesota civil rights activist in her late 80s, was invigorated when listening to the poem.

“I kept thinking ‘Darling, I hope I can keep your energy, your love, your brilliance alive and well,’” Johnson said. “It’s encouraging to this old lady that we’re still out there, that our young people are still there.”

She feels Gorman’s youthful exuberance shares a unique connection to Vice President Kamala Harris, who took her oath of office on the same stage.

“Our young woman, Amanda, saw the result of hard work, discipline, determination. And so Kamala modeled that for her and for others,” Johnson said.

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TruArtSpeaks hosts a virtual open-mic every Thursday night. All are welcome to participate. For more information, click here.

Jeff Wagner