How I Read a Poem Like This

Jun 19, 2018

By Natalye Paquin, CEO, Points of Light

When President George H.W. Bush was in office in 1990, and after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, as a young civil rights lawyer living in Chicago reflecting on the need for more light, I wrote a poem. It was a privilege to share this poem last night at the opening plenary session of Service Unites 2018, as more than 2,200 volunteers, nonprofit, business and civic leaders gathered together for an exciting, star-studded event – part education, part activism, all inspiration – that celebrated and pushed the boundaries of civic culture and volunteerism.  

Many of you have requested a copy of this poem, “How I Read a Poem Like This,” and we are pleased to share it with you, our community of changemakers – points of light in communities around the world, who are helping to ignite a civic culture. Thank you.

How I read a poem like this.

How it provoked thought.

How I’d like to do the same.

Provoke thought…

about racism
about sexism
about classism
about choice.

About basic human rights
human needs
human dignity.

About action.
About empathy.
About apathy.

How I think about life in America.

How I think about its economy.

about its drug problem
about health care,
mental” health care.

How I think about its people.
about the rich.

about the poor.

about the average Joe and Jane on the street.

About our leaders.

about our illiterate and our homeless.

About what I can do
to make a difference.

Oh… I think about the crime in my neighborhood.


How I think about the victimsand the victimizers.

the thieves and con-artists.

the moms with bills and babies.

and our gun-toting teens…who carry and represent for freedom?

How I think about the success
in my neighborhood.


About our doctors.

our lawyers,
and our engineers,
and our teachers,
and our tech heads.

About our beautiful artists
whose words,
and songs,
and pictures inspire us to skip from one scene to the next.

about those who tap into our natural hopes and joy.

About every day leaders
whose life it is to care for others.

How I think about our complex judicial system.

About the laws and their impact and their intent.

About equality.

How five opinions can change the lives of millions?

Think about it.

How I think about my education.

About the education of my children,
of your children,
of our children,
of all children.


What is we gon’ do?

We gon’ wake up.

Read up.

Get up.

Speak up.

We gon’ count.

Do the math.

And add it up.

We gon’ rise up.
Lift up.

Ourselves and Others.




How I think about my lot in life.

How I ask you to think about yours.

How I read a poem like this.

How it provoked thought and action.

How I’d like to do the same.

Natalye Paquin