EAST FLATBUSH — Not many people knew who Amanda Gorman was before this year. Today, the 23-year-old Catholic poet and activist is a household name around the world, including among children and teens from St. Therese of Lisieux Church in East Flatbush.
In fact, the parish’s Social Justice & Outreach committee chose Gorman as the inspiration for its annual poetry and essay competition.
“This year, the social justice ministry’s theme is authentic leadership, and Amanda Gorman was the perfect person to focus on for our competition,” said Carla Forbes, who has led the committee for the last seven years. “This dynamic young woman is an example of what a leader should look like.”
Gorman — who was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States in 2017 — was invited to be the featured poet at the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” called for unity and justice and a better America moving forward.
“When I saw the positive reaction from not only our young people, but from the older parishioners also, and how excited they immediately became, I knew this was a good way to go,” Forbes added.
Forbes said she did not plan to hold this year’s competition due to the pandemic. However, when a previous competition winner contacted her in January and inquired about this year’s contest, Forbes knew she had to continue the tradition.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer have been previous inspirations for the competition, which is normally held in February to coincide with Black History Month. This April, elementary, middle, and high school students were tasked to reflect on one line from Gorman’s poem: “So let us leave behind a country / better than the one we were left with.”
Participants had to write about what it would look like for their generation to leave behind a better country than the one they’re living in today, as well as list steps that must be taken to make change possible. Grand prizes, ranging from $200 to $500, will be awarded to the top three participants at the end of May.
Forbes, who is also one of the parish’s youth Mass coordinators, said she hopes this year’s writing-prompt encouraged the youth to dream big towards their goals.
“It’s like saying everything we’re teaching you is preparing you for when you will be in the limelight or that you can step forward and shine from anywhere you are,” Forbes explained, “because the Sunday school classes, and classes at your regular day school, are preparing you for that moment.
“It could be on a national stage like where Amanda was in front of the White House or it could be on the subway.”