Sunday, November 23, 2014

We Day - Celebrating Empowerment

Sophia and I (along with Sophia's friend, Amelia) went to We Day earlier this month. It was an inspiring, thought-provoking event just as it had been the prior year. 

The focus this year was on empowerment; and the speakers and projects that We Day/Free the Children were promoting all revolved around that topic.

We arrived early and were seated in the third row from the floor.
Music played while the 18,000 youth and adults 
made their way to their seats.

One of the first speakers was Marilyn Carlson from The Carlson Companies and an author. she talked about the power of one person to make a difference. She shared that Ghandi was only one person who lived a very simple, yet made a tremendous difference throughout the world. He had only five possessions: a staff, glasses, two yards of fabric, sandals, and a pocket watch.

She said that each person should remind her/himself that s/he is on a journey and can make a difference. The ability to impact others' lives is her definition of "powerful."

The Carlson credo is:

Whatever you do, do with integrity.
Wherever you go, go as a leader.
Whomever you serve, serve with caring.
Whenever you dream, dream with your all.
And never, ever give up.

Sophia and Amelia listening to music and 
watching as everyone finds their seats.

Another speaker was Magic Johnson. After sharing an inspirational message, he told everyone that he was donating $1 million to build schools in Africa.

Magic Johnson sharing that he is donating $1 million
to build schools in Africa.

Just thinking about how many schools and lives will be positively impacted by his generosity was inspiring!

There was a speaker named Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when the genocide began in Rwanda.

She and her sister Claire fled across the border to Burundi. According to the United States Holocaust Museum, "They found themselves among a sea of refugees—with no immediate access to shelter, food, or other supplies. While international aid soon improved conditions, they constantly struggled to survive. Because of rumors of continued troubles inside Rwanda, they wandered from refugee camp to refugee camp for six years.

"In 2000, Wamariya and her sister gained asylum in the United States, and they settled in Chicago. A year later, Wamariya learned that her parents had survived the genocide. In 2006, Wamariya won Oprah Winfrey's National High School Essay Contest that asked, "Why is Elie Wiesel's book Night relevant today?" The Oprah Winfrey Show surprised Wamariya and her sister Claire by reuniting them with their family on the show. Wamariya has become an eloquent advocate against genocide today."

There's another more detailed story about Wamariya's life that includes the story she shared at We Day. She spoke about a turning point in her life that was when a relief worker gave her ice water and banana, and how she no longer felt invisible.

"One year of empowerment can make a lifetime of change."

One of the speakers was Spencer West. He does not have legs, yet has done some very remarkable things during his lifetime. He spoke about the power of technology and how it can make a tremendous an positive difference. He shared examples about how technology has enabled him to do things that he didn't think were possible - like driving a car.

Spencer introduced Colonel Eileen Collins who was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle. She said that when you volunteer, not only do you help your community, but you become stronger and more confident. You become a leader.

Colonel Eileen Collins talking about volunteering and leadership.

One of the We Day/Free the Children staff talked about how seven in every ten children or teens are bullied. That figure was staggering. Even more sobering was when they asked people to stand up if they or someone they knew had been bullied. Almost every person in the audience stood up.

KDWB shared a bit about their Christmas Wish program that has been happening for 15 years. Dave Ryan said that it is "ordinary people helping others out." He talked about social empowerment, and encouraged people to nominate someone who needs help.

The next speakers was the grandson of Nelson Mandala. His name is Kweku Mandela, and he said that the best way to live up to his grandfather's legacy is to give a voice to others. He talked about how many people in Africa are still struggling for the basics - including education. With education, comes empowerment.

Kweku Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, 
speaking about how education is the route to empowerment.

He shared a quote from his grandfather: "Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up."

The Chairman, President, and CEO of Allstate spoke at We Day. Something that stood out that he said was the "The willingness to get involved is the strongest power we have."

A representative from the Bush Foundation and Springboard for the Arts said that " believe you can make things happen...and that makes you all artists." She said that the "...arts give us the tools to communicate."

Ashley Murphy was a young speaker who is HIV+. She was born HIV+, and knows all too well how access to health care can change lives. "We all face challenges...our weaknesses can turn into strengths...and you can overcome them to help others." She encouraged the youth (and adults) to "own your differences and be you."

Another interesting speaker was J.R. Martinez who was injured in Iraq when he was 19 years old. He spent three months in a hospital recovering from his injuries. He said, "I wear my scars proudly and those who love me will accept me as I am."

He continued, "Life with throw adversity at you. Stand up. Surround yourself by positive people and they'll help you realize that you're not a victim."

One of the speakers asked the attendees: "What do you care about? Is it an issue that was presented at We Day or is it one that you feel motivated to address and change?" Each person has "a gift to make this world a better place" whether it's through writing, baking, or being a good listener. The list could go on.

A surprise came in the early afternoon when Colbie Caillat singing "Try." It is such a beautiful song with an important message. After she sang the song she spoke briefly to attendees telling them, "Don't change yourself for anybody!" A very good reminder.

Colbie Caillat singing "Try" at We Day.

We Day/Free the Children focused heavily on empowering women in Kenya by raising $50 which would buy a woman a goat. This, in turn, would not only provide food for her family, but give her the ability to expand her herd, trade livestock for poultry with other farmers, and give her income as she sells some products (e.g., goat milk, eggs) to others in her community. 

A local woman who is from South Africa spoke about looking at challenges as stepping stones. "You can achieve anything you set your mind to," she said.

Martin Sheen gave a powerful presentation about how he viewed his life and activism. He said acting is what he does for a living, and activism is what he does to stay alive. What was interesting - and gave us pause for thought - was a statement he made about how food and shelter separate us, but the need for justice, healing, and mercy unite us.

He said that he learned early on that you serve yourself best when you serve others first.

Sheen continued, "Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all responsible for each other and the world, which is exactly the way it is, because consciously or unconsciously, we have made it so. And while none of us made any of the rules that govern the universe or the human heart, we are all beneficiaries of a divine promise, that the world is still a safe place despite our fears and we in it, are not asked to do great things; we are asked to do all things with great love."

Later in his talk he said, "The Irish tell the story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and he asks to be let in and St. Peter says, 'Of course. Show us your scars.' The man said, 'I have no scars.' St. Peter says, 'What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?'"

Sheen concluded, "However we perceive the purpose of our journey or the route we pursue, at the final twilight, when we must confront the reality of that undiscovered realm from which no traveler returns, the only things we can take with us, are the things which we cherished and gave away with love, including our precious time and talent."

The power of We Day is in the activities leading up to our ability to attend (we volunteer many ways both at the local and global level); having the privilege of listening to powerful and inspiring leaders because of volunteerism and how integrated it is in our lives; and taking the messages back home and turning them into actions that will make a difference.

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