‘We Day’ arrives in Minnesota, right on time

/ 6 October 2013 / eunice

Star Tribune Editorial, October 6, 2013 – A government shutdown. An orchestra lockout. These and other headlines help create an oppressive air of cynicism that’s felt both locally and nationally.

So it’s the perfect time for a Canadian cool front. Or at least a cool, constructive event from the Canadian-based organization Free the Children: We Day Minnesota will take place on Tuesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

It is expected to attract more than 18,000 students and faculty from more than 400 Minnesota schools and community groups, as well as some prominent public policymakers, and several inspirational speakers and performers. All will celebrate Minnesota youths who have volunteered to make their communities, and our world, a better place.

We Day isn’t just a 24-hour focus, however. It’s part of We Act, a yearlong educational program intended to inspire students for service. Free educational resources aim to sustain student involvement in their back yards and in the broader global community.

In fact, the enthusiastic students packing Xcel won’t be there because they bought a ticket, or because they have connections. It’s because they connected their altruism by committing to take action on at least one local and one global initiative during the year.

The We Act movement and We Day events have been huge hits in Canada with kids, educators, parents and other organizations. Along with Washington state, Minnesota was chosen as the first U.S. location for expansion of the innovative initiative.

That wasn’t by accident, said Craig Kielburger, who founded Free the Children when he was 12 years old after he read a newspaper story on illegal and immoral child labor practices in Pakistan.

When asked in an interview with an editorial writer why the Free the Children chose Minnesota, Kielburger said, “When you look at volunteerism rates, when you look at volunteerism per capita, Minnesota is one of the most generous states, not just in the traditional sense of philanthropy, but when it comes to engagement and service of every indicator.”

Kielburger found out that this civic-mindedness extends beyond students.

“We found that the business community and other leaders put up their hands and came and said, ‘We want to continue what is so special about Minnesota, which is service.’ ”

The business community will be well-represented, with three General Mills brands — Cheerios, Green Giant and Yoplait — as title sponsors. Other prominent supporters include Bremer Bank, the Otto Bremer Foundation, the Edward J. Phillips Family Foundation and the Carlson Family Foundation. Minnetonka Moccasins is even offsetting 100 percent of the event’s electricity usage through an Xcel Energy program. (The Star Tribune is also a corporate sponsor of the event.)

But what will get the students talking — OK, screaming — will be the celebrities. And like the We Act focus of balancing local and global, many are from Minnesota, including some Vikings players, as well as recording artist Dessa and inspirational student-athlete Jack Jablonski. Many are international pop stars like the Jonas Brothers, Carly Rae Jepsen and others. There will also be some motivational speakers, and global figures like Queen Noor of Jordan.

“Why the dash of celebrity and a little bit of fun?” Kielburger asked. “When we started Free the Children, it was so uncool. We want this to be part of the experience of every child in Minnesota and America, where there are academics, where there are sports and there’s also making a positive impact on the community.”

We Day should certainly have that impact, and the excitement at Xcel on Tuesday may be just the beginning, as students may be inspired to work toward getting into the event next year.

“Changing the world is possible and, dare I say it, cool,” said Kielburger.

Society could use more of this can-do cool to sweep away the cynicism. We Day, and the We Act activism that it requires, are a great boost at the right time.