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Inspired by Her Faith, Amanda Gorman Urges People to ‘Be the Light’

American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States at the Capitol in Washington Jan. 20, 2021. She is a parishioner at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Los Angeles. (Photo: CNS/Patrick Semansky, pool via Reuters)

MANHATTAN — “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it” — these final words from Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman encapsulate hope.

More than that, these words encapsulate faith in humanity. There are many ways in which we can be the “light” to others. The more we act in love and kindness, the more we are the light, and the more we see it, too. This is the message she sent to America — and the world — on Inauguration Day.

Before ever setting foot on the inaugural stage, the Los Angeles-born Harvard student had already performed for the Obama White House and Lin-Manuel Miranda, written for the New York Times and even worked with Nike. But on Jan. 20, at age 22, Gorman inspired millions in a new way with her carefully connected words and steady voice.

But, the sentiment she expressed that day is not as new: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” In other words, “If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Every Catholic carries that commandment in their heart, and Amanda Gorman is no exception.

She’s a parishioner of St. Brigid’s parish in Los Angeles, where the Josephite priests who provide pastoral care to the community are especially focused on supporting the African-American population.

The connection between Gorman and her parish first surfaced online a week before Inauguration Day, when the parish shared an article by The Hill via its Facebook page, announcing that then president-elect Joe Biden had chosen the member of the St. Brigid family as his inaugural poet at the recommendation of first lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Floy Hawkins, former director of religious education at the parish for over 20 years, has known Amanda Gorman since she was in middle school. Her phone did not stop ringing after the inauguration, with friends asking if she saw, heard, or knew about Gorman’s role.

As adolescents, Gorman and her sister went through a training program at St. Brigid, and then received the sacraments of baptism, first Communion, and confirmation on the same day. When she graduated from high school to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gorman received a parish scholarship donation. Josephite Father Kenneth Keke, the pastor, said she always returned to the church when she visited home.

“Parishioners are very much proud of her,” the Nigerian priest told CNS Jan. 22. He says that she represented the entire parish in South Central Los Angeles on inauguration day — which is predominantly African American but now also has a growing number of Latinos, Filipinos, and white parishioners.

Father Keke said her poem on inauguration day reflected “what we preach here at St. Brigid’s” about liberation and redemption.

The impact of her parish’s mission can be seen not just in Gorman’s writing but even in the hearts and minds of young Black poets around the country.

For James Larkin, a member of Food for Thought, St. John’s University’s poetry club, “seeing a Black woman, who is also my age, delivering a powerful performance at the inauguration, not only makes me feel inspired as an artist but also as an activist.”

“To have a young Black woman who is a member of the baptized faithful up there, really proclaiming the Word and channeling the Word, I think is good for the Church, and it’s good for the country, too,” Dr. Jeremy Cruz, associate professor of theology at St. John’s University, told The Tablet.

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