It was around a year ago that I sat in The Elgin Winter and Garden Theatre by myself and was moved to tears by Jully Black’s performance in Caroline, or Change.
It wasn’t just me though. You could hear sniffles and the pulling of tissues punctuating the silence throughout the sold-out audience. I was alone, but I felt a connection to everyone in that room. When the performance ended, you could hear the tears; we all took a deep breath and lifted ourselves up for a resounding and emotional ovation.
Since then, things have drastically changed. The pandemic has made those types of experiences next to impossible and as the months drag on, the feelings of isolation grows.
Perhaps that is part of the reason why I tuned in to watch the U.S. inauguration. As I worked from my desk at home, I turned it on in order to feel connected to the millions of others who were also watching. It was a moment that—regardless of your political leanings—was historic, but was also layered with an undercurrent of unease. I read tweets from friends in the U.S. that shared how they were hoping for a “boring” ceremony. After years of heightened and contentious dialogue, they were looking forward to predictable speeches and sedated long-standing traditions.
When 22-year-old Amanda Gorman took the stage I immediately knew we were in for something that was anything but boring. The Youth Poet Laureate, made a home on that podium and gifted the world her talents. She held us, all of us, for over five minutes.
I watched while she reminded a courtyard full of people (many of whom were 3 or 4 times her age) that “inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.” I teared up as she spoke about how we grow through our grief. The tears were not connected to some misguided patriotism, but because this is the power of the arts that I so fervently believe in. Her words scratched well beneath the surface, reminding us of the power that art has to touch a soul, or how a single stanza can be felt from hundreds of miles away.
It was a moment that I needed to share with others, so I texted my group of girlfriends, praising this stunningly talented young Queen, who shined so bright in her yellow coat and red hair band. Responses to my text arrived quickly and realized that I wasn’t the only one deeply mesmerized and moved.
I got message after message from people trying to articulate the same thing I was experiencing. Trying to put words to the impact of her magic and suddenly I was back in that theatre. Though I was alone at home, I felt that same sense of connection in every tweet, post, phone call and message as I did in that audience at Caroline, or Change. So I added my voice to the social media cacophony, trying to articulate how I felt about her, and how I felt about the arts and the value they add to our lives.
I tweeted that even though I would forget the words of many of the speeches, I would remember this day and how I felt because of her. My tweet has since been shared 46.1K times.
You see how Amanda Gorman just made you feel??
This is why art matters so much. It has the ability to cut through and gets right to the heart of the matter.
I guarantee most will forget the majority of these speeches, but it will be hard to forget what she just did today.
— Alicia Rose (@ally_roza) January 20, 2021
I will always remember her bravery as a creator, poet and artist whose words so generously built bridges of connection so that we could experience that moment, together. After four years of turmoil, she unified us. Artists do this for us every single day. They add higher peaks to our celebrations and are often the unacknowledged heroes and sheroes who get us through the darkest of days.
So I’d like to say thank you to the storytellers of our lives. I am so grateful to every single artist, including Amanda, who continues to create in spite of (or because of) the challenges we are currently facing in the world at large.
Alicia Rose works in Corporate Citizenship at TD and sits on the Board of Directors of JAYU. You can find her on Twitter at @ally_roza, or on IG at @disturbthepieces.