“We’ve braved the belly of the beast / We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, / and 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.”
This is the excerpt from Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” which led to her iconic book being banned from elementary-aged students at Bob Graham Education Center after a single parent complaint in Miami Lakes, Florida.
The poem, which was read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, was published as a short book in 2021. Now, it’s been deemed by one Florida parent as a message of “confusion and indoctrination.”
Gorman, who took to social media yesterday to share that she was “gutted” over this complaint, was quick to fight back, adding an Instagram fundraiser to her post.
Within hours, it raised over $50,000 (and counting) for PEN America, an organization that promotes free speech and fights book bans across the country.
Along with the fundraiser, Gorman, and her publisher Penguin Random House, will join PEN America and other authors in a lawsuit to challenge book restrictions.
Gorman also educated her social media audience on the rising issue of book bans, citing a statistic from the American Library Association that calculates a 40% increase in book challenges from 2021 to 2022.
“Often all it takes to remove these works from our libraries and schools is a single objection,” she wrote in her statement. “And let’s be clear: most of the forbidden works are by authors who have struggled for generations to get books on shelves. The majority of these works are by queer and non-white voices.”
Gorman, and the Florida Freedom To Read Project, also shared a photo of the submitted complaint, which actually confuses her for Oprah Winfrey as the author of the poem, and states that pages 12 and 13 “indirectly” include “hate messages.”
That one complaint was quickly drowned out by supporters of Gorman’s work — including swaths of teachers and parents — who commented to show their support and denounce the attempt to censor the poet’s writings.
(Though the Florida school has maintained that the book will only be accessible to middle school-aged students and up.)
“I am a Florida Civics teacher and I open every school year with this magnificent poem,” one commenter wrote. “It is an outstanding exploration of our American democracy and a beautiful piece of poetry to use in all classroom settings. I will continue to do so without question and if they want to stop me they can come and drag me out of my classroom!”
“I just taught a lesson on ‘The Hill We Climb’ poem last week to my seventh graders using it as a mentor text and comparing it to Dr. King’s and Maya Angelou’s works,” another teacher chimed in. “The responses were incredible. I’m so grateful for the inspiration you’re giving young people.”
“Just want you to know that [I] and 4 classes of middle schoolers illustrated your poem and created a mural from ‘The Hill We Climb’ in Maryland,” said another.
Thousands of other comments flooded the post, with parents, teachers, and advocates from every corner of the country sharing their joyful experiences with the poem.
And clearly — many of them were also motivated to donate to Gorman’s fundraiser, which initially had a goal of raising $5,000, and quickly surpassed that — tenfold.
The poet, whose works have been inspired by the iconic (and often banned) voice of Maya Angelou, is prepared to take up the fight against unnecessary and discriminatory book bans.
“We must speak out and have our voices heard,” she shared. “Together, this is a hill we won’t just climb, but a hill we will conquer.”
How can I fight book bans?
Good Good Good has compiled a whole guide to fighting book bans, but here are a few quick tips to get help you take action:
Read banned books.
It really can be as simple as that! Between Gorman, John Green, and George M. Johnson, there are plenty of amazing authors with thoughtful, diverse works that deserve a place on library shelves.
If you’re in an area where it’s difficult to access these books, check out the Books Unbanned program from the Brooklyn Public Library, which allows anyone in the country (ages 13-21) to access digital versions of these banned books for free.
Support activists by speaking up.
Support Gorman (and all the other authors out there whose works are being censored) by expressing your outrage with school districts and cities that enact these book bans. Call or send letters to school boards expressing the importance of free speech — or hey, maybe even run for an elected school board position yourself so you can be part of the solution.
Another great way to show support is by sending supportive letters, emails, or comments to authors of banned books.
Make banned books more accessible to young people.
Can you donate some banned books to a community in need? Can you donate a few dollars to an organization like PEN America or the Florida Freedom to Read Project? Maybe you can host your own banned book club or reading party in your area!
Any little bit counts to make sure people have access to these vital works.