Words That Inspire: Because

Instead of a letter, Terry Tempest Williams wrote a poem to nominate Lily Yeh as a YES! Breakthrough 15 Hero. The poem shared the many reasons why Lily Yeh is worthy of consideration. Who are the people students might be inspired to honor with a poem?
Terry Tempest Williams

Photo by Devon Fredericksen.

Selected by author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams:

Because she is a builder of communities through art;
Because she understands beauty is not optional,
but is a strategy for survival;
Because she takes that which is broken—a piece of tile, a village, a human heart, and listens to what it
has to say and then begins the process of
Because through engagement, she inspires;
Because through inspiration, she acts;
Because through action, transformation occurs;
Because through transformation, vibrant communities are
created through loving participation;
Because when Lily Yeh comes to your town, magic occurs;
Because she understands that laughter is as expressive as
tears because joy is born out of sorrow;
Because when she sings, children follow her with joy;
Because when the children are happy, the mothers pay
Because when mothers pay attention, the world changes;
Because when I followed Lily Yeh to Rwanda in 2005, my
world changed
Because Lily Yeh made me a mother;
Because Lily Yeh creates peace through her wound;
the wound of being human;
Because she is empathy in action and that redefines love.

I nominate Lily Yeh as a transformative leader because she is a healing grace on the planet who is fearless. She reminds us not only what is possible but necessary.
I submit this nomination, humbly, so grateful to call Lily my friend, my sister.

With deepest bows,
Terry Tempest Williams


Note to Educators:


Here are two activities that use a mentor text about a hero to push great writing.

Please note that it’s ideal to start with the first activity, where your students will read a full article, then a poem about Lily Yeh. The activity will help your students understand how to synthesize text and recognize characteristics or contributions of a hero. However, you may also jump to the second activity that focuses on creating "hero" poems.


Activity One: Recognize hero contributions

Reading about people who share qualities of persistence and grit, vision, curiosity and zeal can connect students to possibilities for their own life. With that in mind, read aloud  "Beauty in Broken Places," the article about Yeh’s life with your students. Next, summarize Yeh’s contributions with your students on a chart. Ask students to prioritize two or three contributions from the class list that they think are most important and pair up and share. Debrief with your students why they chose those particular contributions.

Direct students to read aloud Terry Tempest William’s poem, "Because" (on left). Borrow Williams' poetic structure to encourage your students to write about heroes, and synthesize a person’s important work into a poem. Ask them to pay attention to how the author melded Yeh’s many contributions into her nomination poem. Talk with students about their observations.


Activity Two: “Nominate a Hero” Poem

Ask students to choose a person or “nominate a hero” who has done important work for others. This might be a person they know well or someone they have read about. Ask students to make a list of this person’s contributions. Now model in front of your students how to take a list of contributions, and cast it into Terry’s poetic structure. Show students how the mentor poem helps the writer group their thinking to provide an original insight.

Give students a chance to write their own “nominate a hero” poem. Be sure to celebrate their poems with the class, and send them to us at YES Magazine. We’d love to know who are your heroes!