We Day Illinois inspires youth to become change agents


Jessica Scott

We Day Illinois inspires youth to become change agents

The hottest ticket in town did not go on sale. Chicago-area students who wished to attend We Day Illinois earned their tickets through community service.

“We Day,” a series of stadium-sized events that unite world-renowned speakers and entertainers, held its first Illinois event April 30 at the Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Road in Rosemont, Illinois. “We Day” offers educational resources and campaigns to help young people turn a passion to change their communities into sustained action.

The star-studded event featured performances by Jennifer Hudson, The Band Perry and motivational speeches by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kweku Mandela and We Day’s co-founder, Craig Kielburger. Singer and actress Selena Gomez hosted the two-hour celebration of youth empowerment and achievement.

Fifteen-thousand Chicago-area middle and high school students and their teachers packed the stadium. Many celebrities attended, but the focus remained on the young people and their achievements.

“The one resource I’m sure we will always have is all of you,” actor Dennis Haysbert proclaimed to the stadium full of enthusiastic students.

Tom Wilson, chairman and CEO of The Allstate Corporation and a co-chair of the “We Day” board, said it is the young people—today and yesterday—who have been the force behind many historic moments in American history.

“Remember the phrase ‘I can,’” Wilson said. “When someone tells you not to pursue your dream, know you can make a difference. Don’t let other people cause you to doubt yourself.”

More than a single-day event, “We Day” is connected to the yearlong “We Act” program in which students earn their tickets through local and global initiatives. We Day itself is a branch of Free The Children, an international charity focused on rebuilding communities to providing food banks across the country and worldwide.

Kielburger, an international activist and co-founder of We Day, started the initiative seven years ago. Since then, he and his brother Marc have grown We Day to become one of the world’s largest charitable causes.

“The unique thing about We Day is that youth are not problems, but problem solvers,” Kielburger said. “The greatest change we see is in the young person themselves, when they’re conscious of their power to make a positive influence.”

Students also heard stories of triumph and perseverance. One of those stories was that of Ally Del Monte, a singer/songwriter and blogger who started the popular blog Losergurl after years of being bullied and attempting to take her own life. She said those who are struggling must hold on for one more day.

“These people that you’re letting have power over you don’t really know you,” Del Monte said. “Don’t let someone tell you your worth because you’re your biggest ally.”

We Day also touched on the recent events in Baltimore. Mustafa the Poet gave a powerful opening monologue about dreaming with open eyes. He said the system has been violent toward people of color, and the movement is something that needs to happen.

“A lot of people are dying [at the hands of the police] and it’s clear that the judicial system is corrupt and systemic oppression [has been] built into the government,” Mustafa said.

The event also showcased student-led initiatives. Students from across the area were highlighted for their service, leadership and determination to improve their neighborhoods.

Aashin Amin, a 16-year-old junior at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois, created the Clean Water Project initiative. He said he hopes to develop clean water systems so children in developing countries can have access to fresh water.

“I want to make sure that I expand this and bring it out to other schools and teach [students] about why getting kids access to clean drinking water is so important and to teach them that unsafe drinking water is a major issue,” Amin said.

The festivities wrapped up with performances by Grammy-award-winning hip-hop artist Common, who also co-chairs We Day, and prize giveaways. Common said love is the key to combating many of the issues showcased in today’s world.

“Love helped me get through situations where I could have made [a bad] choice,” Common said. “Love is the most important thing, it’s the word I would give today and forever.”