Local kids, global action: A good pair

/ 10 February 2013 / eunice

Star Tribune Editorial, February 10, 2013 – Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis hosted the kickoff of We Act last week, making Minnesota one of two states launching the yearlong youth volunteer program that’s been a huge hit in Canada.

The Minneapolis event featured prominent politicians and leaders in education, business and philanthropy, along with We Act cofounder Marc Kielburger, the Jonas Brothers and actress/activist Mia Farrow.

Even more stars will align on Oct. 8, when We Day takes place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Jonas Brothers will be joined by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and other big names. Previous We Day events in Canada have featured Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel, as well as sports stars and pop icons such as Magic Johnson, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato and Jennifer Hudson, among others.

But the real stars will be Minnesota students themselves. Those who attend We Day will have earned their ticket by committing to one local and one global action of their choice as part of We Act. The program will provide free resources to students and schools in order turn the inspiration into action.

We Act was started by Canadian-based nonprofit Free the Children, which was the brainchild of, well, a child. In 1995, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger (Marc’s brother) was looking for the comics page. In a moment of media serendipity that printed newspapers create, he saw a story about a Pakistani boy his age who had been murdered because he was an anti-child-labor activist. Craig Kielburger led a group of a dozen 12-year-olds who decided to take action, including traveling to the region to press for changes, as well as lobbying Congress and the Canadian Parliament. The result of that initial effort is a trans-Canada movement that is now moving to the United States, with Minnesota and Washington the first two states to take part.

The service-learning ethos was embraced by Minneapolis School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. Educators across the state should take their lead and use the We Act program to augment their curriculums. In the process Minnesota, and indeed the world, will benefit.

Parents, too, should encourage their kids, and their local schools, to get involved. In doing so, they’ll join General Mills and Bremer Bank, as well as the Phillips Family Foundation, Carlson Family Foundation and Otto Bremer Foundation. Local leaders include siblings Dean and Hutton Phillips, who are cochairs of We Day Minnesota, and David Stillman, director of Free the Children.

Minnesota’s reputation for philanthropic and corporate leadership led Free the Children to pick the state, Kielburger said in an interview. He also noted the level of service-learning the state’s schools already embrace. He also was encouraged by Cassellius’ response. But mostly, he considered those who We Act is all about — Minnesota’s students, whose charitable energy doesn’t need to be spurred as much as it needs to be harnessed.

As Kielburger noted, “Once these kids get involved and inspired and realize that they are not alone and that it’s cool to care and they can make a difference, this generation’s unstoppable.”