Amanda Gorman’s First Teachers

Placing our children front and center, in the fight for equity and justice!

(DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0)

by NAACP San Diego Branch Education Chair, Katrina Hasan Hamilton on January 25 2021

Greetings and Happy February. Ordinarily I’d say Happy Black History Month.  However, as many of you know, every day is Black History for us because quite frankly, we make history every single day. Just look at 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, for example. On January 20th, 2021, she made history as the youngest Inaugural Poet to ever recite at an inauguration. With her poem, The Hill We Climb, Amanda joined the ranks of great poets like the late Maya Angelou.

Recommended to the Biden Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) by First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden who first heard Amanda recite in 2017 at the Library of Congress, this amazingly beautiful Harvard Graduate became an overnight sensation. Everyone from CNN’s Anderson Cooper who was so “overjoyed” that he interviewed Amanda the evening after her international debut to Robin Roberts of Good Morning America who interviewed her the morning after. During these interviews, we learned about Amanda’s inability to say words with the “r” sounds (AAVE and SEL buzz words). People from all over the globe wanted to know more about this dynamically beautiful poet who beamed with sunshine on a cold winter’s day. Just Google Amanda’s name and you will see countless articles, pictures and interviews about her childhood and schooling. Amanda’s former teachers are emerging into the spotlight, as is her former school, New Roads in Santa Monica. While this is a rightful nod to the importance of education, we must remember that children’s first teachers are their parents. Their Mothers and/or their Fathers, caregivers, and in the case of Amanda, both her Mother and her Grandmother.

In a field that is nearly 80% White, female, and Middle-Class, our children are often exposed to classical literary works that frame their point of reference and world view. At least that is the hopes. However, for many of our children here in San Diego’s East County, their homelife impacts largely how they will interact with the world around them and their extended family, including grandparents/caregivers must be part of the holistic framework of educating our children. 

As for Amanda, her Grandmother and her Mother instilled a sense of pride and love that only a Black parent or Black teacher can give. Hence the need for more culturally responsive and empowering Black teachers in our schools today. We applaud the teachers in Amanda’s life who exposed her to Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine as early as 3rd grade. I’m quite sure her teacher (Ms. Shelly Fredman) is beaming with pride in knowing that her teaching is partly responsible for what the world witnessed – a phenomenal woman.

Yet, we must not forget it was Amanda’ mother, Dr. Joan Wicks, a teacher herself, who encouraged her child to read and write at an early age and to complete her assignments at home. Something most of us parents during online learning know firsthand. From the day Amanda was born, to the moment she walked, began to write, graduated from school, and set foot onto the steps of the US Capitol to recite The Hill We Climb, Amanda’s mom, Dr. Wicks taught her daughter along with her twin sister, Gabrielle, and older brother Spencer every step of the way.

Amanda proudly credits her mother as a key part of her evolution as a young, Black woman and according to an interview with the Washington Post even referenced ‘the talk’ that we all have with our children: “My mom was not playing around. When you are a Black child growing up in America, our parents have what’s called ‘the talk’ with us. Except it’s not about the birds and the bees and our changing bodies, it’s about the potential destruction of our bodies. My mom wanted to make sure I was prepared to grow up with Black skin in America, and that was my first awakening to the political climate I was stepping into.”

Not surprisingly, Amanda saw in her Mother, a woman of resilience who “climbed many hills” along with her children to get Amanda and her siblings to where they are today. Dr. Wicks is a Humanities Teacher at Alliance Schools in Los Angeles, received both her Master and Doctorate degrees in Education from Loyola Marymount University and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. You can read more about Dr. Wicks’ research here: https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1492&context=etd

In regard to her nurturing support from her “Grandma’s Hands”, well, according to her Grandmother, Ms. Bertha Gaffney Gorman, Amanda and her siblings spent most of their time with her writing. Ms. Gorman told the Sacramento Bee that: “When they [Amanda and her siblings] would come for the summer or visit for vacations, that was our entertainment. They would write. They would make a play and they would perform them,” Bertha Gorman said. “It’s just part of what we did. The kids were very creative. Amanda and her sister (twin Gabrielle), her brother and her cousins were all very creative kids.” According to realblackgrandmothers.com, Amanda’s Grandmother, “…worked as a journalist for The Sacramento Bee (1971-1978), as one of the only Black reporters in the newsroom at the time, before she went on to work at the California State Assembly.” My fellow NAACP members and community-at-large, as the oldest civil rights organization in the Nation, it is no surprise that Ms. Gaffney Gorman also served as an NAACP legislative advocate in California.  

It’s no wonder Amanda learned to love and herself (her hair, her skin, her weight), unconditionally and to advocate for others from her support system that included her family. Her mother’s sacrifices to place Amanda in learning environments like New Roads that incorporate self-exploratory and group projects, including wonder projects to develop public speaking as early as elementary school also played a factor in her love for education. It is schools like New Roads, Montessori and African-Centered Schools (which you will hear more about in future posts) that support the whole-child learning experience that is critical in producing history-makers like young Amanda Gorman. Speaking of support, purchase Amanda’s new book, Change Sings for your children and/or donate copies to libraries, afterschool programs and schools.

Here at the NAACP San Diego Branch, we applaud all of our children’s first teachers. We also know that while every parent is unable to afford private school education, our goal is to ensure that all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) are receiving fair and equitable outcomes. We are always looking to share information on scholarship opportunities, parent and educator resources and events that support our children. As always, let us know if you need our help. Together we can make a difference! 

 

 

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