We Day in Toronto attracts thousands of students focused on sparking social change
Published Friday, September 20, 2013 10:31AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 20, 2013 8:28PM EDT
More than 20,000 students have descended on the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for this year’s We Day, a youth activism event launched in 2007 by the founders of Free the Children, brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.
Part pop concert, part leadership convention, students from nearly 1,000 schools attending the seventh annual We Day will be joined by singer and "X-Factor" judge Demi Lovato, The Jonas Brothers, Juno award winner Serena Ryder, and retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
"It's awesome. I love the message (the event) is giving," Fatima, a student attending the event, told CTV Toronto. "We are the change. We can change the world just by a simple act."
This year's event theme is education.
"It's going to be a day to remember," Marc Kielburger told CTV's Canada AM, speaking from the ACC before the official start of Friday’s event.
"Education is probably the solution to every major social issue that we want to tackle," said Kielburger, who has a 19-month-old daughter and travels around the world spearheading projects that include providing clean drinking water and building schools.
"Our goal this year is to build 200 schools, to provide kids with tens of thousands of chances to receive an education," he said.
Kielburger said students in Canada sometimes take their education for granted, forgetting that the opportunity to learn is something to "celebrate."
"We wake up, we don't want to do our math test, we're feeling a little tired," he said. "But education is such a gift."
Since We Day was launched in 2007 -- when only 8,000 youth took part in the initiative – the one-day "party" has grown in popularity, becoming the marquee event for many students who work tirelessly throughout the year to help non-profit organizations.
"After I went to We Day for the first time…I've been volunteering and constantly looking for things to do," student Vanessa Taylor told CTV Toronto.
Kielburger's passion for social change has also influenced some big-name celebrities to also engage on behalf of their group internationally, including the Barenaked Ladies.
"We spent Christmas and New Year’s in Kenya a couple of years ago with Me to We," Barenaked Ladies' lead singer Ed Robertson told Canada AM ahead of his band's event performance Friday.
Me to We is a for-profit social enterprise that donates some of its proceeds to the Free the Children charity.
"The work they do is phenomenal. They lift up a whole community," Robertson said.
"The energy that comes from all of these kids in one room, it's better than any real rock concert," Robertson said. "The music is great but the speakers are really great too."
We Day events are hosted in other cities across Canada too, including Vancouver, Calgary, and Saskatoon, as well as around the world.
- Vancouver: Oct. 18
- Calgary: Oct. 24
- Saskatoon: Nov. 6
- For details on other We Days, visit the event’s website
Overall, more than 160,00 students, teachers and volunteers are expected to take part in We Day events this year.
To attend a We Day “party,” students don’t buy tickets, but instead earn their way to the event by taking part in a year-long program called the We Act. The initiative provides students and teachers with free educational resources and materials to develop student-led campaigns that support local and global causes. Since 2007, youth involved with the We Act program has raised $37 million for more than 1,000 organizations.
The roster of speakers in Toronto this year includes We Day alumni Spencer West, whose legs were amputated below the pelvis when he was a child due to a genetic disorder, says he will be speaking about his experiences in the past year.
"I hope these lessons will help kids along their journey for social change," West, whose achievements in the past year include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, told Canada AM.
He said the desire for the younger generation today to want to change the world has "become a part of their nature."
Other speakers included Martin Luther King III, whose father delivered the influential "I have a dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington, calling for the end of racism in the United States.
"My father stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered one of the most important speeches in our nation and now our world," the human rights activist told a sea of students on Friday. "This is important work that is going to change our world."
In Toronto, the speakers and performer for We Day included:
- Darren Criss – Glee cast member
- Demi Lovato – Singer/songerwriter and Free the Children ambassador
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – President of Liberia
- Imagine Dragons – Rock band
- Jonas Brothers – Grammy-nominated artists
- Jacob Artist – Glee cast member
- Barenaked Ladies – Juno-winning rock band
- Austin Mahone – American pop singer
- Chris Hadfield – retired Canadian astronaut and social media superstar
- Serena Ryder – Juno-winning singer-songwriter
- Craig and Marc Kielburger – Co-founder of Free the Children
- Degrassi cast members
- Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynny
- Kenyan Boys Choir
- Martin Luther King III – human rights activist and eldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King jr.
- Michael “Pinball” Clemons – CFL Hall of Famer, vice chair of the Toronto Argonauts
- Hannah Alper – Youth speaker
- Molly Burke – Visually impaired Me to We motivational speaker, anti-bullying activist
- Robin Wiszowaty – Me to We motivational speaker
- Spencer West – Double-amputee who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Me to We motivational speaker
- Chris Tse – National spoken word champion, Me to We motivational speaker
- Sydney Brouillard-Coy – Youth speaker
- Vishal Vijay – Youth speaker
With a report from CTV Toronto's Ashley Rowe