Thousands of cheering and screaming students gathered in Rogers Arena in Vancouver today (October 15) for a day-long, celebrity-studded rally intended to inspire action toward social change on a global scale.
The second-annual We Day event attracted famous speakers including climate activist and former U.S. vice president Al Gore, civil rights leader and politician Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Hollywood actor and activist Martin Sheen, as well as popular Canadian musical acts Hedley and the Barenaked Ladies.
“Never ever doubt for one moment that you can change the world in a positive way,” Gore told the crowd from a stage set up in the middle of Rogers Arena. “You are already doing so.”
“You have now heard a challenge to change the world for the better,” he added. “You can educate yourself. You can continue to gain the knowledge and skill that is necessary for you to become effective in making this world a better place.
“You can continue to nurture the optimism and idealism in your hearts. Never give up.”
We Day is organized by the charitable organization Free the Children, which was founded in 1995 by children’s rights activist Craig Kielburger when he was 12 years old.
Through its Adopt a Village program, Free the Children is focused on addressing problems around education, health care, income, and water and sanitation in Africa, Asia, and South America.
The Canadian non-profit group has helped to build more than 650 schools internationally since it was established and continues to encourage youth fundraising efforts.
Organizers estimated that 18,000 people were in attendance at the free event in Vancouver, which followed a We Day rally held in Toronto in September. A third event is planned in Montreal for November 12.
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, spoke about how previous generations of First Nations youth in Canada were abused and prevented from speaking in traditional languages.
He then led the audience members as they collectively shouted a Coast Salish expression of gratitude.
“They say that youth are the leadership of tomorrow,” Atleo told the crowd. “I don’t believe that. You are the leaders of today, each and every one of you.”
In his speech, Sheen said the most important needs humans beings have are for freedom, justice, and healing.
“My fondest wish for each and every one of you young people here today is that you will find something in your life worth fighting for, because when you do, you will have discovered a way to unit the will of the spirit and work of the flesh, and all of humanity will have discovered fire for the second time,” he said.
Video clips from a press conference that featured Rev. Jesse Jackson, Martin Sheen, and Craig and Marc Kielburger are available here.