WE Day Montreal Inspires Generation WE to be change-makers at home and around the world
WE Day Montreal recently gathered together over 2000 exuberant English-speaking students at a rally at Théâtre Saint-Denis inspiring the post-millennial “Generation WE” to be change-makers in their local communities and around the world. A second WE Day event for French-speaking students was held the following day in the historic Montreal theatre located in downtown Montreal in the tourist sector known as the Quartier Latin.
“WE Day celebrates the amazing young people who have taken action at home and around the world, to create sustainable change for a better tomorrow,” says Craig Kielburger, CEO and co-founder with brother Marc Kielburger of WE, a movement powered by youth for global social change. To participate in WE Day events, students must first be registered in the WE Schools program which provides comprehensive service-learning programs for students who are aided by educators to make positive change happen. Participating WE schools and groups are required to complete one local and one global action relating to any social justice issue they choose. Schools and groups then report on these actions for their members to become eligible for WE Day tickets.
For the 6th straight year in a row WE Day Montreal featured an impressive roster of inspirational speakers, A-list entertainers, and stunning visual effects. Multi-platinum singer and songwriter Karl Wolf rocked the house with his performance of “Africa” while pop star Kayla Diamond delivered a moving performance of her hit song “Carnival Hearts”. Alouettes Wide Receiver Seydou Junior, a volunteer and mentor of WE, asked those in attendance to act with their communities in mind, noting that Pierre Elliott Trudeau School had raised over $2000 for a local food bank and WE villages abroad. “If you want to go far, go together,” he said. Canadian Champion Runner Yves Sikubwabo talked about his life growing up in war-torn Rwanda before emigrating to Canada saying he became a runner because he had to run to school and back every day. In the absence of reliable transportation in his country of origin this was the only way he could go to school.
Filmmaker, journalist, and author Alexandre Trudeau who is also the brother of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a rousing applause as he walked onto the stage to the strain of the national anthem “O Canada” . He talked about how growing up in a famous family with the spotlight always on his father, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had inspired him to travel to places where he was unknown and could just blend into his surroundings. He talked about being a pilgrim and how being alone in “places of fear and loneliness” can bring out the best in an individual. “Travel taught me compassion, ” he said. “We all need a little wasteland in our lives.” He encouraged young people to go out into the world and get to know others. “God speed young travellers,” he said. “Stay safe and be wise.”
The cheering crowd heard true-life testimonies from several young adults who had lifted themselves up out of trying circumstances and broadened their horizons. Lisa Charleyboy, News Reporter at City News Winnipeg and blogger at Urban Native Girl whose family had been damaged by her father’s residential school experience said in time she shifted her focus away from painful experiences and developed a passion for the arts, becoming a writer. She said that while there is a myth about Indigenous people living off the land, “I found my community in downtown Toronto.”
Aminka Belvitt was born in Jamaica and had a severe stuttering problem as a child which only made her feel even more like an outsider as the only visible minority student at her school. She eventually switched to a more multicultural school but after suffering a stroke at a young age had to learn to cope “with humor and a smile”. She eventually overcame her speech impediment becoming outspoken and excelling at sports. “I liked to challenge the boys in everything,” she said. She would go on to found the Montreal community organization For Us Girls, dedicated to celebrating young marginalized women and girls aged 13-17 and to help them meet the challenge of achieving their personal best despite all obstacles “We don’t sugarcoat it,” she said. Theland Kicknosway, a 14 year old of the Wolf Clan began to think deeply about issues affecting his community at an early age. One Earth Day when he was picking up garbage he asked himself, “Where do the children of murdered and missing women go?” Thus began his journey at only 12 to run across the country to raise awareness and money to help the families of victims, breaking the silence to “honour the women lost”. He donated the proceeds to Families of Sisters in Spirit, a grassroots advocacy organization that supports families of victims and women who are missing. After telling the audience his story he treated the cheering crowd to a traditional hoop dance replete with fluorescent effects “to bring happiness to your day”.
Comedian and actor Seth Rogen made a guest appearance via video with Muppet Gonzo the Great. He told Gonzo that he too could be a “role model for kids” despite the Muppet’s misgivings. “When I was a kid I was furry and had a big nose and didn’t fit in,” Rogen said to much delight. WE Day motivational speaker and favorite Spencer West was back revving up the crowd to get behind WE Walk 4 Water, a global fundraiser that brings clean water to thousands of people in developing countries. The Toronto man whose legs were amputated below the pelvis because of a genetic disorder when he was 5 has trekked long-distance on his hands and in his wheelchair all over the world to raise thousands of dollars for clean water. Throughout WE Day it was the same message: each person must become a problem-solver, collaborator, innovator, creator, and leader.
Sixteen students from Knowlton Academy were bused into Montreal from the Eastern Townships to celebrate WE Day, accompanied by principal Renalee Gore and teacher Sheila Perry. This is Knowlton Academy’s first year as a participating WE school and the teenagers were clearly thrilled to be there, saying it was “awesome”, “amazing”, and “really fun”. Katrina Burcombe, the co-prime minister of the school parliament found the rally inspiring. “It changes your perspective,” she said. The school’s motto is: “Dream, Believe, Work, and Achieve” – pretty much a perfect fit for WE which promotes academic excellence as a criteria for participating in its charitable programs known as WE Charity. “We support 3 girls in Afghanistan,” Gore said, referring to the fact that their WE school provides financial assistance so that Afghan girls can go to school. The group also collected more than 1000 food items which it donated to the local food bank as part of its WE Scare Hunger project. To a shout-out from Perry of, “What did you learn?” from WE Day, the teens replied with their other school motto, “Always be a little kinder than is necessary. ”
We Day Montreal and the year-long WE school programs are supported by National Co-Title Sponsors RBC and TELUS . RBC provides free tools and educational resources through its WE Global Learning Centre to further curricular learning in elementary and secondary schools to help students maximize their own potential and build the skills of social entrepreneurship while instilling the value of citizen engagement. In the 2016/17 school year, WE schools and groups across Quebec volunteered more than 145, 000 hours and raised over $720,000 in support of more than 195 local and global causes including hunger, poverty, the environment, and bullying. A TELUS initiative #RiseAbove cyberbullying empowers youth to take a stance against cyber-bullying by acting when they witness or experience it. Since 2007 TELUS has been helping to keep families safe through its online and smartphone safety program TELUS WISE, a free resource to all Canadian families endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. TELUS also provides a free WE Day app that allows young people to use their phones for good, enabling them to track and verify their volunteer hours, learn about causes, take daily challenges and rally their friends around topics they are passionate about.
By: Deborah Rankin – email@example.com
Feature image: Multi-platinum singer, songwriter and producer, Karl Wolf, lights up the stage for 2,000 youth and educators at WE Day Montreal on February 21, 2018, at Théâtre Saint-Denis. Photo Credit Stephane Briere for WE Day