How’s your consciousness today? That’s the question that Emilio Estevez’s favorite high school teacher posed to the class every morning. It was that creative writing teacher who, through her lessons, encouraged the notoriously shy writer, director and actor—best known for The Breakfast Club—to express himself through the written word.
Mrs. Shackleton showed Estevez, a member of John Hughes’ Brat Pack, that his voice mattered. Forty years later, Estevez is sharing that same message with youth at WE Days—a testament to how a good teacher inspires their former students to pay it forward. He declares, “Teachers are essential. They are crucial to the development of young minds.”
From his dressing room backstage at Winnipeg’s Burton Cummings Theatre, Estevez takes a moment away from WE Day Manitoba to share why he sees teachers as frontline workers, and how the future of our planet will be defined by young people using their voices.
In conversation with Emilio Estevez:
Q: That was a powerful speech you just gave to the WE Day audience! How did it feel to be up on stage?
Emilio Estevez: I’m always nervous talking to a crowd of people. We all start from a broken and a vulnerable place. But realizing that and being able to say to young people, “I’m just like you, I have fears, I have anxieties” has been really empowering for me. I’m very grateful to be here, and to be able to work through some of my own anxieties at WE Day.
Q: What do you hope that audience of young people out there will take away from your speech?
EE: I’m hoping that they find their voice. That they don’t remain silent. That’s something that I struggled with a lot as a kid—not feeling like my voice mattered. I think that I often swallowed the best parts of myself and kept silent. So hopefully what kids get out of my speech is that they matter—their voice matters.
Q: In your opinion, why do the voices of youth matter?
EE: I think that the future of the planet depends on young people speaking up, speaking out and marching in the streets. They are the real change-makers of the future. We’re at this critical tipping point in the planet, and young people get that more than the adults, frankly.
Q: That’s certainly true of the youth here at WE Day. What about yourself, why do you choose to speak out about the causes close to your heart?
EE: As an actor, as a filmmaker and as a writer, I have an obligation and a responsibility to use the tools that I have and the access that I have to make films that speak out against injustice, and that speak for those who are marginalized.
Q: That’s so important; you give a voice to those without a platform.
EE: I think staying silent is dangerous. I think that is the only way to create change is to speak out against the injustices we see.
Q: In your book Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son, you write about your high school teacher Mrs. Shackleton, and how she helped you find your own voice. Looking back on the effect she’s had on your life, why do you think teachers are so important in the lives of young people?
EE: Teachers are in many ways first responders. Teachers are on the front lines of helping children understand the world at large. I think that that’s an enormous responsibility, and teachers oftentimes are tasked with cutting through the noise that kids are dealing with these days—the social media, the bullying. I think teachers are essential. They are crucial to the development of young minds.
Q: It’s true. Unfortunately, though, research shows that teachers often lack the resources they need to do their jobs. Why do you think it’s important that they get what they need to help students succeed in the classroom?
EE: When you see that teachers are out there buying pencils and books and paper out of their own pocket, I think that’s a national shame. We need to empower teachers and give them all the tools that they need as frontline first responders in the war on education. Because that’s kind of what it is, it’s a war on truth that a lot of teachers are battling these days.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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Zoe Demarco is a writer and production manager for WE Stories. A third generation journalist, she has a natural curiosity for other people’s lives.