Amanda Gorman at the 2018 Gleitsman Award. Photo credit: Tom Fitzsimmons.

Changing Hearts and Minds

Working in the social innovation space from Harvard Kennedy School, an institution steeped in research on human rights, democracy, politics, and power, we at SICI often find ourselves gravitating to examples of leaders who are capable of changing hearts and minds, rather than those who are capable of creating breakthrough technologies or a new line of products and services.

We do this because we know from research that one of the most powerful levers of societal change is public opinion. As a person interested in making the world better, you can work on perfecting your approach to meet the demands of the people, or you can work to convince people that they want something else altogether, which in turn, pressures the entire system to change.

The power of this approach could not have been more on display than when Amanda Gorman took the stage at the Biden-Harris inauguration earlier this month. Already, Ms. Gorman’s poem has been so well covered and widely disseminated that it’s been declared a classic. People who normally skim over political news have been forwarding me her poem for weeks, reflecting on the words and the hope they signal about our future.

Think about that for a moment. After all the violence, strife, and turmoil leading up to Inauguration Day 2021, the person who captured the attention of the world, who likely drove the most media conversation in the days that followed, was not the U.S. President, nor Vice President, but a young, Black, female poet.

Ms. Gorman graduated from Harvard College last year. She declared in her poem, and apparently many years prior too, that she has dreamed of becoming the U.S. President herself one day. What gives me hope for the next generation is that Amanda Gorman’s pursuit of that dream looks nothing like the cookie-cutter paths one would expect from a political hopeful out of Harvard. She did not pick a “practical” major; she leaned into the humanities. She is not working at the “right” places this year. She does not dress like a “typical” politician. She is open about having both an auditory processing disorder and speech articulation issue.

She is charting a path forward, grounded unapologetically in her own lived experience, with a clear vision and passion that has inspired millions. It took great courage for Ms. Gorman to show up on stage this month. It took even more courage to do so in her own unique way.

Her message encourages us all to do the same, and I could not agree more.

“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it”

Together with you,

Brittany Butler signature

Brittany Butler
Executive Director, SICI
Adjunct Lecturer, HKS