A star-studded lineup--including Pete Carroll--will appear at the first ever “We Day” in America at KeyArena in Seattle on March 27, but the founder of the event and the Seahawks coach say it’s all about the kids.
The youth-empowerment event is a program by the Canadian-based non-profit group Free The Children, founded by Craig Kielburger when he was just a kid himself. It is designed to show kids positive approaches to life and ways to set themselves free by helping others.
We Day events have been going on in Canada for six years, but the first-ever in America will be in Seattle, thanks to Carroll’s persistence.
“We’re excited the first one is in Seattle and it’s because of Coach Carroll,” Kielburger said Wednesday. “He picked up the phone and called us. That man is persistent! He loves Seattle.”
The 15,000 kids who will attend the event--from some 380 schools in more than 100 districts statewide--have already been selected, based on their own service work for both local and global causes. They include students from Shoreline schools.
“We want to show them that change in the world is possible, and it’s important to care,” said Kielburger. “They had to earn their way by doing one local and one global cause.”
Students from Kirkland, Bothell, and Mountlake Terrace also will be participating in We Day.
Carroll, who started the group A Better L.A. after hearing too many stories about gang violence and brought it to Seattle (A Better Seattle) when he became Seahawks coach, saw a way to work together when he learned about We Day events.
“When I first was introduced to Craig and his craziness and what he stands for, I was so moved, and we tracked him down,” Carroll said. “One of my first thoughts was that we could work together. We try to keep kids from joining gangs, primarily through working with law enforcement and outreach, and we need other places for them to go.
"We hope the kids here reach out to other kids who need it and give them a place to land.
The celebrities and other high-profile figures who will attend all support their own causes, and We Day gives them an opportunity to communicate that to the kids, who range from upper elementary through high school students.
The lineup for the event, which is co-title sponsored by Microsoft and Amway, was announced Wednesday and includes:
- Actress and singer Jennifer Hudson
- NBA legend Magic Johnson
- Actor Martin Sheen
- Actress Mia Farrow
- Grammy award-winning musician Nellie Furtado
- Former Seattle Supersonic star Gary Payton
- The Seahawks' promising young quarterback Russel Wilson and fellow players Richard Sherman and Russell Okung
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
- Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn
“These people have been incredibly gracious,” said Kielburger. “Our rule is that every celebrity must have a cause. Magic has joined us in many cities, speaking about the fight against HIV. Jennifer Hudson has worked to fight violence. Coach Carroll’s cause is preventing kids from joining gangs.”
We Day is the signature event of Free the Children, started by Kielburger in 1995 after he read about a Southeast Asian boy named Iqbal Masih, who was sold into slavery at the age of 4 and spent six years chained to a carpet-weaving loom. He escaped and spoke out against slavery, and then was killed.
With friends, Kielburger started Free the Children. “It became this movement of children helping children and it kept growing,” he said. “Finally we realized half of our work was helping children around the world and the other half was helping children at home. That’s how We Day started.”
Free the Children offers free speakers, free workshops for schools and other programs.
“We tailor our programs to each school, whether it's homelessness, bullying, hunger in America,” Kielburger said. “Our goal, and it's quite a big goal, is to show young people they shouldn’t feel alone.”
They certainly should not feel alone on March 27 in Seattle. “We hope to really celebrate the kids and the work they do,” said Carroll. “It’s such an extraordinary program to empower youth.”