A Florida school district has restricted student access to a poem written by a Black poet for the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2021.
Amanda Gorman recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” two years ago at the most recent presidential inauguration. Gorman’s poem largely centered on the work yet to be done in the United States to achieve equity and justice for all. Notable lines in her work include:
- “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed/a nation that isn’t broken/but simply unfinished”
- “We the successors of a country and a time/where a skinny Black girl/descended from slaves and raised by a single mother/can dream of becoming president/only to find herself reciting for one” and
- “[B]eing American is more than a pride we inherit,/it’s the past we step into/and how we repair it.”
But after just one parent issued a complaint, the Miami-Dade County School District banned access to the poem for elementary-aged children. Now, only middle-schoolers and older can access the poem.
According to the complaint, the parent objected to Gorman’s poem on the basis that it supposedly wasn’t “educational.” The parent also wrongly claimed that the poem contained “hate messages.”
Bans on books and other pieces of art have been commonplace in Florida since Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation into law last year allowing parents to lodge complaints against titles they dislike and threaten schools with lawsuits if they don’t comply. The law has largely resulted in parents and community members targeting books featuring Black or LGBTQ characters, Gorman pointed out in a statement on her poem being banned.
Gorman said she was “gutted” that, “because of one parent’s complaint,” her poem was banned from an elementary school within the district
“Book bans aren’t new. But they have been on the rise,” Gorman said, citing findings from the American Library Association that book bans increased by 40 percent from 2021 to 2022.
Gorman added that she’s received “countless letters and videos from children who were inspired by ‘The Hill We Climb'” to try their own hands at writing poetry.
“Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech,” Gorman said. She encouraged her followers to donate to the free speech organization PEN America in order “to challenge book restrictions like these,” alluding to a lawsuit the group is a part of in Escambia County, Florida, fighting against bans of multiple titles.
It’s likely that the opposition to Gorman’s poem is politically motivated rather than rooted in any legitimate concerns about its content. The parent that filed the complaint, Daily Salinas, has connections to far right hate groups, including the Proud Boys and Moms for Liberty, the latter of which has been fervently pushing book bans against books with LGBTQ and nonwhite characters.
Salinas was booted from a school board meeting last year after she and other Moms for Liberty activists disrupted a discussion on sex education textbooks. She has also shared antisemitic posts on Facebook, The Daily Beast reported.
School officials have also implemented book bans in other parts of the country. In at least one case, the federal government has gotten involved, pointedly telling a Georgia school district that they may have violated the rights of students by imposing bans on a number of titles, giving them little explanation on why they forbid access to those books in the first place.
The action by the U.S. Department of Education seems to have worked: as a result of their investigation in Georgia, administrators have taken initial steps to restore and preserve the rights of students in the district.
In Florida, however, the situation is so dire that the NAACP has issued a travel advisory to people considering heading to the Sunshine State.
“Under the leadership of Governor Desantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson further encouraged current residents in the state to “defeat the regressive policies of this Governor and this state legislature.”
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