Last week, nearly 15,000 Illinois youth attended the annual WE Day Illinois festivities at Allstate Arena.
Sponsored by The Allstate Foundation and organized in part by WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, the event celebrates the power of young people solving pressing social issues.
With an early morning start, thousands of young adults crowded into the arena listening to speakers and performers, who included a non-stop line-up of celebrities and everyday citizens doing charitable work in their communities.
Hosted by Shay Mitchell, participants such as Allstate Chairman and CEO Tom Wilson, Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, Xzibit, Andra Day, Celebrity Marauders, Rhymefest, LaRoyce Hawkins (Chicago P.D.), Stedman Graham, former U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Dante Brown (Lethal Weapon) among others graced the stage.
Actor Dante Brown, a Chicago native who currently resides in Los Angeles, felt it was important to attend and address the serious genocide of violence occurring in urban neighborhoods. Coming back home to address WE Day’s youth attendance was very important to him.
“It brings joy to what I’m doing because it makes me feel like I’m doing something I like. I’m helping other people that I see who may not be going in the right direction,” he said. “Chicago doesn’t have to be so violent. They’re calling it Chi-raq for a reason. It was worse than Iraq with the killings. It makes me feel better to know I’m doing right to help other people.”
Brown has worked in the film industry since he was 4 and has resided in L.A. since he was 6, but his family base is still in Chicago.
He says, “For WE to bring me on stage means the world to me. Some people think because I went to California, they feel I’m not from here. I will always be from here. I come here every chance I get because I love this city so much. To see my people hurt so much,” he pauses. “I miss it so much when I’m out there in Los Angeles.”
WE is not an ordinary organization. It has outreach around the world, bringing people together — giving them tools to change the world. One of the unique ways they bring awareness to youth is through the classroom. Educators and students are encouraged to participate throughout the year in selecting ways to touch other people’s lives.
Local campaigns include “WE Scare Hunger,” a program that joins people together to collect cans of food in support of local food banks. It works along with “WE Won’t Rest,” raising awareness about homelessness and connecting with local shelters in communities, in addition to ”WE Are Love,” which encourages students to make handwritten cards for everyone in their school — to show appreciation for people who get overlooked in their community. Other campaigns include “WE Volunteer,” “WE Are One,” ”WE Create Change,” “WE Are Rafikis,” “WE Are Silent” and “WE Step Up.”
Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE, says, “WE Day Illinois unites and celebrates thousands of young leaders who are working passionately for the causes they care about the most, creating sustainable change in their own backyards and around the world.”
DeVry Advantage Academy student Daisy Garcia feels this experience has prepared her for a lifetime of staying involved with giving back to the community.
“WE Day is special to me. It got me involved and got me out of my shell. It helped me to get out of my ‘shy’ self that I was and to do something with the ideas that I had.”
As a senior, Garcia will earn her associate’s degree when she graduates and plans to attend college, moving on to acquire her law degree.
“I work at a day care center part-time, and having these little kids there every day knowing they are getting an education. There are many others who are unable to have that access. I want to do something about that.” She said that WE has motivated her, and she hopes it can inspire other students to do the same.
“Coming here, they can see that they can make a difference. They have a voice, that’s the reason. I was that kid out there and I was inspired. Anybody else can.”
The program highlighted 9-year-old Jahkil Jackson, founder of Project I Am. His organization donates “Blessing Bags” filled with everyday essentials to homeless shelters in Chicago. As he stood on stage with hip hop artist and actor Xzibit (Empire), Jackson explained his compassion for helping those less fortunate.
“My inspiration comes from people on the street. I choose to make the Blessing Bags. Every time I would see homeless people come up to a car. It made me sad to see they didn’t have the same things that other people had.”
He has given out over 1,600 Blessing Bags in the past year, and his goal is to make and give away 5,000 bags every year.
As he addresses the packed arena of his peers, he emphasizes. “It’s very important to give back so that I can show that homeless people are also people too.”
His advice for other kids in their communities, “For them to find their passion, now — today.”