WE Day Family

With an hour to kill before we watched Middlest’s hockey game, Youngest and I went for a walk along the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail.

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The sun was shining, the autumn leaves all alight in their yellow glow.  We got to talking about religion and life after death, as one does, which led to a discussion of our family values.

“What are our family values, would you say?”

“We believe in Christmas,” he replied, anxious, I imagine, to make sure we keep celebrating it in the lavish style to which he has become accustomed.

“No, not the holidays we celebrate.  What are our values?  What matters to our family?”

“Love,” he said.

I thought that was the perfect answer, covering, as it does, so much of what matters to us as a family: expressing our love frequently in words and deeds, supporting each other, staying in close contact with our extended family, practicing kindness and politeness.  Like that.

Love, too, informs our charitable work as a family, something I’ve been thinking about a lot since Carol and I went to We Day Family last month.

WE is a movement that brings people together and gives them the tools to change the world, both in their own communities and globally.  This year marked the first ever WE Day Family event, held at the Air Canada Centre with over 20,000 people in attendance.  Speakers and performers shared their messages of the power of positive change, and the event raised awareness about many charitable movements that grew out of families working together to effect positive change.

We applied to be part of the media coverage of the event, and I was excited to get a first-hand look at this charitable and social enterprise which grew out of two brothers’ desire to make the world a better place.  I had seen coverage on the news in years past of thousands of kids converging on WE Day, and I was looking forward to experiencing it in person.  I had no idea what I was in for.

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The ACC was packed.  It was loud.  And it was glorious.  I was astounded at the range of charities and messages from the speakers and performers who took the stage.  From seasoned stars like Nelly Furtado and Paula Abdul to teens who have become WE ambassadors, I was struck by eloquence and passion with which they spoke, but I was more impressed by the passion in the audience.  It is part of WE Day’s success that they can attract star talent to their cause.  I imagine many in the audience were giddy in the presence of fame, but believe me when I tell you that the cheers for families who appeared in support of Syrian refugees and in support of educating girls in developing countries and in support of help for the homeless were as heartfelt and loud as the cheers for Hedley.

That stadium was packed with love.

At intermission, we went back to the press room for a Q&A with WE co-founder Craig Kielburger and astronaut Chris Hadfield.  Carol and I are sensible women with our heads on our shoulders, but we lost our heads a little when we were in the comparatively tiny press room with Chris Hadfield.  We were in a room with Chris Hadfield, as gracious and eloquent a speaker to 20 as he was to 20,000.  What would this man, who has a list of accomplishments as long as my arm, who has seen our fragile planet from space, say about what ordinary, earth-bound people like us could do to make a positive change in the world?  His message was simple: “You can have a long term plan, but you can also change the world today.”  The power to effect change does not come just from stars who have spent years building their success; it can happen today, in 20,000 small and immediate ways.  A brilliant and useful message from a man who has achieved so much.  I was star struck for sure.

The highlight of the night, for me, was seeing Gord Downie perform from The Secret Path, his suite of poems that became songs and then a graphic novel illustrated by Jeff Lemire and then an animated film.  The Secret Path is a beautiful telling of the harrowing tale of Chanie Wenjak, an Ojibway boy who, at the age of 12, ran away from the residential school to which he had been sent.  He died from exposure on his attempted walk home, over 600 km from the school.   (You can read the original MacLean’s story from 1967 that inspired the project here.)  Gord Downie was joined on stage by Pearl Wenjack, Chanie’s sister, who sang her brother a mourning song.  She sang alone and unaccompanied to that crowd of 20,000.  You could have heard a pin drop.

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I took the story of Chanie Wenjack home from the stadium and into my heart.  I watched the film with Middlest (11) and Youngest (8) when it aired on CBC.  It was not easy to watch, but, to paraphrase Margaret Atwood, witness is something we must bear.  We watched it together and we talked about what love can do to draw a small person home from a bad place and what it can do to draw a man to use his considerable fame to shed light on this dark history.  It is a history a little less shrouded in silence now.  I am awe-struck that Gord Downie is using his last days to raise awareness about the history of residential schools and about conditions today on our First Nations’ reserves.  I am impressed beyond measure that all of the funds raised from the sale of the book will go to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.  I am very glad I watched the film with my boys, and I recommend that you watch it, too.

If you would like to learn more about the many ways that families can bond around the causes that matter to them, and about how to raise caring and compassionate children, head over to the WE Day site.  There are so many ways that families can work together to give back and to make a difference with their everyday actions.

 

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