407: At the Age of 18 - Ode to Girls of Color

407: At the Age of 18 - Ode to Girls of Color

407: At the Age of 18 - Ode to Girls of Color

This week, we’ve chosen to highlight episodes that take up questions of social justice. The outrage and heartbreak brought on by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other Black citizens remind us that courageous dialogue about racial prejudice is critical to the survival of our culture. And we believe that poetry is a perfect vehicle for just such dialogue.

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At the Age of 18 - Ode to Girls of Color
by Amanda Gorman

At the age of 5

I saw how we always pick the flower swelling with the most color.

The color distinguishes it from the rest, and tells us:

This flower should not be left behind.

But this does not happen in the case of colored girls.

Our color makes hands pull back, and we, left to grow alone,

stretching our petals to a dry sun.

At the age of 12

I blinked in the majesty of the color within myself,

blinded by the knowledge that a skinny black girl, a young brown teen,

has the power to light Los Angeles all night,

the radiance to heal all the scars left on this city's pavement.

Why had this realization taken so long,

When color pulses in all that is beauty and painting and human?

You see, long ago, they told me

that snakes and spiders have spots and vibrant bodies if they are poisonous.

In other words, being of color meant danger, warning, 'do not touch'.

At the age of 18

I know my color is not warning, but a welcome.

A girl of color is a lighthouse, an ultraviolet ray of power, potential, and promise

My color does not mean caution, it means courage

my dark does not mean danger, it means daring,

my brown does not mean broken, it means bold backbone from working

twice as hard to get half as far.

Being a girl of color means I am key, path, and wonder all in one body.

At the age of 18

I am experiencing how black and brown can glow.

And glow I will, glow we will, vibrantly, colorfully;

not as a warning, but as promise,

that we will set the sky alight with our magic.

"At the Age of 18 - Ode to Girls of Color," by Amanda Gorman, copyright © 2016 Amanda Gorman. Used by permission of the poet.