Imagine having the power to light the fire of inspiration in the hearts of 16,000 young people, and then sending them back into their homes and communities thrumming with the idea that they can be a powerful force of change in the world. Imagine the ripple effect of that empowerment and positivity. That’s what happened this past Wednesday at the National We Day event here in Ottawa.
As I mentioned last week, Simon and I were invited to attend We Day by national sponsor TELUS. Tristan also attended, as he earned his way in to We Day by working with his school’s Kids Helping Kids club throughout the school year. If you missed it, We Day is a series of events held across Canada and internationally to inspire youth to create change in their communities and around the world. You don’t buy tickets to attend, though – you earn your way in through acts of local and global good will.
Let me tell you from first-hand experience, it’s not just youth they are inspiring and empowering! I don’t know anyone who comes away from exposure to We Day without being changed by the experience.
We started our day at a pre-show media briefing with Free the Children founder Craig Kielburger and two of the days’ speakers, 11 year old Hannah Alper and the inimitable Spencer West.
My favourite quote was from Craig himself, who said in speaking about how We Day affects and empowers the youth who participate, “I’m confident there’s a future prime minister among our We Day attendees.” Spencer West also spoke about the upcoming launch of his 10-week cross Canada road trip to talk to inspire and motivate Canadian students in the We Create Change Tour.
We Day got underway with a powerful address by Martin Luther King III, son of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He had all 16,000 participants in the Canadian Tire Centre chanting “Spread the word, have you heard, all across the nation, we will be a great generation!”
Last year’s national We Day focused on the issue of clean water; this year’s theme was education. Through the We Create Change initiative, participants are encouraged to collect coins to raise funds to build 200 schools and improve access to education in developing communities around the globe. $20 buys a brick, 500 bricks builds a school. That’s what I love about all the We Day messages – each grand goal is tied to achievable, empowering small steps. No contribution is too small. Last year through We Create Change, kids collected 140 million pennies. Stacked in a pile, those pennies would reach the International Space Station – SIX TIMES! Those pennies are like the choices we make every single day in our lives. They might seem insignificant on their own, but together they can make a huge difference. Pennies – never underestimate the power of the small.
One of my favourite moments of We Day was watching the boys’ school getting a call out for their actions through the Kids Helping Kids club. Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza and players Chris Neil and Chris Phillips presented autographed jerseys to a few of the schools in attendance, and one of Tristan’s best friends went up on stage to accept the jersey on their school’s behalf.
We Day has no shortage of celebrities on the stage from across the celebrity spectrum. From activists like the Kielburger brothers and Martin Luther King III to political figures like Queen Noor of Jordon and the one-day-into-his-job ambassador to the USA to TV and sports stars to rock bands like Simple Plan and Neverest, there are plenty of famous names and faces. However, the stage gives equal exposure to seemingly ordinary people who have made their own lives extraordinary in big and small ways. Spencer West is a great example of this, as is Molly Burke, who spoke last year. Ottawa’s own Fahd Alhattab spoke of growing up poor in our very own city – he’s now one of Canada’s Top 20 under 20.
But I have to say, I was most deeply touched by the simple eloquence of Toronto teen Ashley Murphy, who was born HIV positive and was not expected to live more than a few days. The dynamic young teen, adopted into a family of 10 children (eight of whom are disabled or have special needs), is now vice president of her school’s student council, member of a rock band, and an incredibly talented speaker. She said adversity is not something to be overcome in life, it IS life. She told the rapt audience that you don’t need to be liked by everyone, you just need one good friend and to be able to look yourself in the mirror every morning. But it was this that resonated most with me. She said, and I swear I want to print this out on a card and keep it in my wallet: “These are the facts of my life: I can’t change them, I can only control how I live with them.”
During the lunchtime “red carpet” media interviews, Simon had the chance to take this “selfie” with the eloquent and extremely kind Canadian rap star Jason Harrow, known as Kardinal Offishall. I love this photo because it’s super cute, but also because you can see genuine kindness in the interaction between a 10 year old boy who sees everyone as an equal and a celebrity rapper who obviously does, too.
If you’d like to read more about We Act and We Day or better yet, if you’d like to get your family, school or company engaged in this movement, visit the Free the Children website. You can also download the amazing We365 app, a free mobile app and website that enables young people to track and verify their volunteer activities for school, as well as provide the tools needed to fundraise, take action, and amplify messages for thousands of different charities. Youth who participate in We365 challenges will have the chance to be rewarded with TELUS grants and scholarships. Further, through We365 TELUS will engage with kids via Earn Your Way challenges throughout the year, giving kids a chance to win exclusive opportunities like a hike with Spencer West or a day trip with Craig Kielburger. Challenges could include sharing a photo of one small act of change through the We365 platform. These actions will also be amplified through other social media platforms as We365 activity can also be shared through Facebook and Twitter.
On the drive home from the Canadian Tire Centre, Simon and I were chatting about the day’s events. I asked him, “What did you learn you could do at We Day?” His answer, without hesitation but with a huge smile: “Anything!” And that, my friends, is what We Day is all about.
Thank you so much to National We Day sponsor TELUS for inviting us to be a part of National We Day 2014 and to all the amazing organizers and volunteers who made We Day possible.
Hanging out at We Day with Neverest and the TELUS crew
So what will YOU do to change the world?