At 150, Canada is just getting started.
Its future—to judge by the 500-and-some teens gathered at Bishop Marrocco-Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School on Jan. 23—is caring, compassionate and bursting with pride.
Surrounded by nation-builders from 10 Toronto high schools, Craig Kielburger used an early morning rally to kick off the WE are Canada campaign.
“Young people in this country can be a force for enormous good,” he said to an auditorium of hopeful change-makers.
Take, for example, the Royals boys’ soccer team. The players from Bishop Marrocco-Thomas Merton travelled to Attawapiskat First Nations last summer to create a soccer camp. Nuno Da Cruz says the team went “up there” to foster a lasting connection.
“We’re 16, 17,” said teammate Damian Charles, “We went all the way to Attawapiskat and made such a big difference.”
The morning included a speech from rapper and producer Kardinal Offishall and an interview with Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak.
Parkdale-High Park MP Arif Virani was one of the first to speak at the rally.
“I myself came here as a refugee from Uganda in East Africa 43 years ago, and now I’m a Member of Parliament,” he told the students. “That itself is a statement about what this country is about—it’s about taking people in this room who come from all corners of globe and turning them into the leaders of tomorrow.”
Craig reminded teens of their power and potential. He called on each and every student to step up.
Taking action creates connections, he explained. “You are not alone when you stand up against a bully, when you raise your voice for a cause, when you collect a dollar, when you choose to give an hour. You are not alone when you choose to pick up a piece of trash. You are not alone when you choose to do good.”
Ricardo Leca was happy for the reminder. The 16-year-old volunteers at Toronto homeless shelters. “Some people, they never feel like they belong, but they do,” he said. “They’re all special in their own way.”
WE are Canada is funded by the Government of Canada. The future-building campaign is focused on reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, youth empowerment and the environment.
During 2017, WE is inviting Canadians to take a pledge—one in which they commit to a specific action that benefits Canada. Each pledge registered at WE.ca unlocks $10 to support Canadian causes and charities.
Craig showed the audience a video that brings proof to point—youth can be community leaders, shift national perspectives and become global change-makers.
The WE are Canada video introduces eight Canadian youth to the distinguished words of Toronto teen and spoken-word poet Mustafa Ahmed.
The crowd was also moved by WE’s Talitha Tolles, who took care during the rally to honour the traditional territories on which Bishop Marrocco-Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School stands.
Talitha says it was her grandmother who inspired her to connect with her Indigenous roots—for herself, for her family and for her country. Talitha’s first trip to Moose Factory, Ontario was one of many to First Nations reserves in pursuit of aboriginal history, tradition and culture.
The journey was not lost on Claire Goodin, a Grade 9 student. “I am Métis myself, and I don’t really know a lot about my background, and I would love to learn more,” she said after hearing Talitha speak. “I thought it was very inspiring.”
Claire said it was nice to focus on kids who are making a change—and she vowed to do her part. Her pledge? “To help my communities more and to get more active in the WE club.”
The morning wrapped up with a performance by Canadian singer Jully Black.
During her final song, she pulled a student from the audience onto the stage. Students stood and cheered as Heather Russell and the R&B singer belted out “Crazy” by Cee Lo Green.
As their vocals rained down, the message of the morning soaked in: It’s time to make a difference, the future is now.
Sarah Fox has a natural curiosity for people’s lives. She loves to hear about them, write about them and live different ones herself.