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Ramped up and ready to serve

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Of course his name was Noah, now in Grade 4, and the handwritten message he had just scrawled said, "My We Day wish is for no more slavery."

Noah Monti was in the concourse of the MTS Centre, just as the We Day Manitoba celebration had ended, and was asked by a couple of Free Press reporters to quickly write down his wish, along with a couple of his classmates from Queenston Elementary.

Sam Penner wished for "no war." Natalie Viebrock wished for "clean water."

If you could harvest the hope in the eyes of these kids, we'd all be OK. They were still amped by the We Day event on Wednesday -- part MuchMusic concert, part humanitarian rally, part motivational-speaking engagement.

There were 16,000 kids crammed to the rafters in the arena, ready to serve. Or scream. Whatever the visual before themas inspired.

After all, one minute the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, is speaking about changing the world, the next minute, R&B singer Shawn Desman is crooning out Nobody Does It Like You with the backing of the Kenyan Boys Choir. You have to keep up.

This is Up with People on steroids or a Justin Bieber concert, only for good. From the moment the MuchMusic VJ first yelled, "What do we do on We Day? We party!" the gig was on. Even Premier Greg Selinger got a thunderous response when taking the stage, which can't usually be the response of 14-year-olds to a 62-year-old politician.

But it happened when Selinger referenced the province's anti-bullying legislation and told the kids, "We've got your backs."

More raucous applause.

By the time he left the stage, Selinger was probably considering ways to lower the voting age to 12.

The two headline speakers were Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and venerable actor Martin Sheen, who has spent a lifetime as an activist, most notably supporting anti-nuclear and antiwar causes and demonstrations. Of course, the audience demographic might have been more familiar with the recent work of Sheen's notorious son, Charlie, of TV sitcom fame.

However, those same kids might also not know the old gentleman with the silver mane has been arrested 66 times, at last count, for his involvement in non-violent actions. In fact, as a 13-year-old, Sheen formed his first union as a caddie at a posh country club in Dayton, Ohio. "It only lasted 36 hours," he said. "But it changed my life."

Channeling President Jed Bartlet, his beloved TV character from West Wing, Sheen told the crowd, "The world is still a wonderful place despite our fears."

But the true rock stars of We Day, of course, are Canadian activist brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, who founded Free the Children, the mothership charity of the We Day movement, in 2005. Since then, Free the Children has raised over $37 million toward 10,000 causes and generated over 9.6 million hours of kid-powered volunteer service.

With a scheduled We Day set for Atlantic Canada, there will be 13 events in three countries (including London, England) in 2014 that will attract an estimated 160,000 BeWeivers.

Said Craig Kielburger: "There are a lot of U.S. and U.K.-founded charities that set up in Canada. We're proud of the fact that it's a Canadian event and it's now grown outside of Canada to spread in the states and spread in the U.K."

The Kielburgers are high-octane. They preach sacrifice for humanitarian causes. They are evangelists who use the latest social-media platforms (i.e., the recently launched "We365") to spread their gospel of service.

"Why did we start We Day?" Kielburger said at a press conference midway through Wednesday's event. "We need a national celebration of service. We were shoved into lockers when we were 12 years old because it was so uncool to try and make a difference. Today, these kids, it is the coolest thing. And they know it's possible."

Jayda Hope and Cassidy Roberts are believers. The Grade 9 students from John Pritchard School are executive members of Students Without Borders, which has so far raised $20,000 for Free the Children causes. Just last month, the kids raised $600 for breast cancer, baking and selling pink cupcakes and cookies.

"I want to get involved," said Cassidy, 14. "I want to make a difference in this world."

Jayda, 13, would like to someday travel to Kenya to help school children. "Girls, specifically," she said.

Ask them if they think community service is "cool" these days, and Cassidy flashes a 14-year-old look that says, "Duh." "Just the fact that there's 16,000 kids here today," was her answer. "That's exceptional."

In fact, filter through the thousands of tweets emanating from the MTS Centre Wednesday under #WeDay and the reviews are easy to compile; from the less favourable ("We Day is a gong show") to the dreamy ("Shawn Desman is sooo yummy") to the inquisitive ("Baby, are you at We Day?")

The most common word in the #WeDay Twitterverse, however, was "Awesome," followed closely by "Amazing." Or simply: "Weeeeee."

Queenston school principal Wade Gregg said his students are just as aware of We Day as they are of Halloween now. Each year, the kids vote for which cause to champion. Last year, it was $1,600 for an impoverished village in Haiti. They have also had fundraisers for Winnipeg Harvest and CancerCare Manitoba.

"It starts a year of change," Gregg said. "It's a springboard. They (the students) are just motivated."

Which brings us full circle to Noah. Why slavery, someone asked. He said he'd seen stories about it on television. Nothing specific, just an emerging knowledge and conviction that if slavery still existed anywhere, Noah would be against it.

"It must feel very bad," the young boy reasoned.

It begins to sink in. These kids really believe they can save the world.

Who knew?

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: randyturner15

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press

Enthusiastic students attending packed the MTS Centre for the third We Day.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 A1

History

Updated on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 7:06 AM CDT: adds video, adds slideshow

7:08 AM: adds videos

10:33 AM: Typo fixed.

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