Amanda Gorman Reveals Physical Terror, Mom's Shooting Fears Over Inauguration

Poet and activist Amanda Gorman on Thursday revealed her mother's shooting fears and the physical terror she felt ahead of President Joe Biden's inauguration, where she became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times one year on from the event, Gorman, 23, said she almost declined delivering her poem "The Hill We Climb" partly because her family and friends feared she could be targeted.

"The truth is I almost declined to be the inaugural poet. Why? I was terrified," she wrote.

Gorman, America's first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, said she was scared of failing her people and her poetry, but said she was also "terrified on a physical level."

"Covid was still raging, and my age group couldn't get vaccinated yet. Just a few weeks before, domestic terrorists assaulted the U.S. Capitol, the very steps where I would recite," she wrote, referring to the January 6 riot at the Capitol building last year.

"I didn't know then that I'd become famous, but I did know at the inauguration I was going to become highly visible—which is a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you're Black and outspoken and have no Secret Service."

The Los Angeles native and Harvard University graduate said her friends told her "not-so-jokingly" to buy a bulletproof vest to wear to Biden's inauguration.

"My mom had us crouch in our living room so that she could practice shielding my body from bullets," she recounted. "A loved one warned me to 'be ready to die' if I went to the Capitol building, telling me, 'It's just not worth it.'"

Gorman said in the days leading up to the inauguration, she had insomnia and nightmares, and barely ate or drank.

"I finally wrote to some close friends and family, telling them that I was most likely going to pull out of the ceremony."

She wrote: "Yet while the inauguration might have seemed like a ray of light, this past year for many has felt like a return to the same old gloom. Our nation is still haunted by disease, inequality and environmental crises. But though our fears may be the same, we are not."

Gorman, whose poem called for unity, said one of her greatest concerns about declining the inauguration altogether was that she would "spend the rest of my life wondering what this poem could have achieved."

"On that January 20, what I found waiting beyond my fear was every person who searched beyond their own fears to find space for hope in their lives," she wrote, adding, "So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it."

"If you're alive, you're afraid. If you're not afraid, then you're not paying attention," wrote Gorman. "The only thing we have to fear is having no fear itself—having no feeling on behalf of whom and what we've lost, whom and what we love."

Gorman said last year that she one day hopes to become president of the United States.

American poet Amanda Gorman
American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the the 59th inaugural ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Gorman said Thursday she almost declined delivering her poem "The Hill We Climb" at President Joe Biden's inauguration last year. Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images