Sixteen thousand teenagers flocked to the Forum April 7 to see performances from Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Big Sean. However, this wasn’t a concert – at least not an ordinary one. These kids were getting a day off from school as a thank you for their involvement in community service or social activism as part of the year-long WE Schools program. The program was developed by ME to WE, a nonprofit social enterprise founded by Marc and Craig Kielburger, brothers who believe teens can be empowered to do social good. Craig founded the charity organization Feed The Children when he was just 12 years old.
The WE Day event also let kids see a bigger picture of what activism can do and created an inspiring atmosphere highlighting the positive impact of social change.
WE Day offered a big, impressive lineup of celebrities, including Seth Rogan, Zoey Deschanel, Joe Jonas, Martin Sheen and Charlize Theron, honorary co-chair of WE Day California. The teen crowd was thrilled to see them, but also attentive to what they had to say – from Henry Winkler’s impassioned talk about overcoming a learning disability to “Girl Meets World” actress Rowan Blanchard speaking about the troubles of trying to fit in and feeling alone. The students got to see a different side of these stars and learn about what causes they are passionate about. Rogan’s involvement in an Alzheimer’s charity, for example, stems from his wife’s mother’s struggle with the disease.
Some of the biggest crowd reactions, however, were for ordinary people doing extraordinary things. People such as 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer, who founded BeeSweet Lemonade and donates a portion of her profits to help save the bees. But the day’s most memorable moment was actually one that the audience initiated. Theron brought AIDS activist Ashley Murphy to the stage. After the actress announced that Murphy, who was born with HIV and given only months to live, had just turned 18, the crowd started singing “Happy Birthday” to her. It’s a rare day when 16,000 strangers spontaneously sing “Happy Birthday” to you.
WE Day is something of a rare day itself – a day that celebrates good deeds and offers a sincere sense of hope and optimism for the future. But it is on track to become less rare. The ever-growing WE Schools program, which started in 2007, now has more than 200,000 teens participating in more than 10,000 schools in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. In the past year, there were 13 WE Days, but it is easy to imagine that there will be more next year. Which will mean that more good has been brought into this world.