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WE ALL SCREAM FOR WE DAY
April 4th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

The setting: KeyArena, 2:20 on a Wednesday afternoon. The place is filled with 15,000 middle- and high-school students and their adult chaperones. I’m in a staff lounge, preparing to start working on the tear-down crew at the end of this event, watching the on-stage action from a video feed.

From the elaborate stage, event hosts Craig and Marc Kielburger tease an already hyped-up crowd with the promise of a final surprise guest. Then they introduce said guest.

This is followed by the screechingly loudest human noise imaginable, as the young crowd screams in unison.

It is only due to the miracle of modern amplification that local hereos Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (with their full live band) can be heard.

Thus ended the first non-sporting event I’d been to in KeyArena since presidential candidate Barack Obama’s visit in the spring of 2008. That event, like this, was a rousing call to action.

But the Obama rally was a mere toe-tapper compared to the rafters-shaking experience that was We Day, a five-hour celebration of kids getting involved in their communities and in the larger world.

We Day has been staged in cities across Canada for the past six years. This was the first one held south of the border.

Its parent organization, Free the Children, was started by the Kielburger brothers when Craig Kielburger was age 12. Their original intent was to crusade against forced child labor in Pakistan.

Since then, the organization has grown and evolved. It supports activities in 45 countries from Ecuador to India. These include schools, clean-water projects, and cottage industries making craft products. These projects’ overall goal is to “adopt” whole villages, helping create a sustainable infrastructure of education, health, and livelihood.

On the home front, Free the Children works to get kids involved in social change. It encourages kids to raise money and volunteer their time for overseas projects. And it empowers kids to work in their own communities against hunger, abuse, bullying, and dropping out of school.

Every part of Free the Children’s outreach to North American students is about positive empowerment. Burnout, or “compassion fatigue,” has no place in this outfit’s mindset. Everything’s about getting up, getting involved, doing things, speaking out (or, in the case of its forthcoming Day of Silence project, deliberately NOT speaking).

We Day is both a call to action and a celebration for those who’ve already been active. Kids got to go to it by having volunteered for both local and global causes.

In return, they got to spend a day out from school among kids bused in from all over the state. They got gift bags containing motion-powered light up plastic wristbands (donated by Microsoft, one of the event’s local sponsors). They got to partake of an extravaganza of entertainment and exhortation, of high-energy rally speeches alternating with live music and video segments of kids making a difference.

I worked on a part of the setup and teardown crew, and found a highly efficient organization behind it. Perhaps no recent event at the Key had needed so much stuff placed in so many places throughout the building. Besides the huge main stage (with two video walls) on the arena’s south end, a secondary stage with a video floor was set up on the north end. A gift bag was placed on every seat in the auditorium. Booths selling T-shirts and giving away promotional flyers were set up along all the concourses. Some lounges and luxury suites were reconfigured to welcome event staff, volunteers, adult supporters, and sponsors. Ground-floor dressing rooms had to be spiffed up at least a little for all the celebrity guests.

Those guests included Sonics legend Gary Payton, Mia Farrow (Payton Place meets Peyton Place!), Martin Sheen (delivering a rousing secular sermon about making a difference), MC Hammer, Martin Luther King III, Nelly Furtado, and local breakdance stars the Massive Monkees.

The most enthusiastically-received of the announced guests, “Dreamgirls” star Jennifer Hudson, performed two high-energy song and dance numbers.

But even Hudson couldn’t raise louder screams than Macklemore, wearing a replica Sonics jersey embossed with the slogan BRING ‘EM BACK. (A men’s pro basketball team bearing that name may indeed show up in KeyArena later this year.)

But this day was not about sports fandom, despite the presence of Payton, Magic Johnson, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and several of his star players including Russell Wilson.

What We Day was all about was getting involved in things bigger than sports, things bigger than yourself.

And having a raucously good time while doing so.

(Cross-posted with City Living.)


One Response  
  • Art Marriott (AKA "ArtFart") writes:
    April 4th, 201312:18 pmat

    Clark,

    While there isn’t a direct connection, our daughter Melissa, who now lives in Vancouver BC, works for a UK-based organization named Lattitude Global Volunteering which arranges for young men and women to take a “gap year” between high school and college doing charitable/activist work in a foreign land. Sort of like a non-government version of our Peace Corps, it’s common in the UK and throughout the British Commonwealth to put in such a year of service, and considered an important part of the process of becoming a responsible and successful adult.


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