ORACLE ARENA — Orlando Bloom, Selena Gomez, Lauren Miller and Martin Sheen joined Magic Johnson and 16,000 screaming students Wednesday to celebrate social change and children’s potential to change the world.
Photos by Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay
The first stadium-sized event of its kind in California, We Day rewarded junior high and high school students for community service throughout the year with a day of performances.
Martin Sheen, who described himself as an actor by trade and an activist by choice, told SFBay he came to We Day to help children change the future:
“It’s like we’re watering a plant. The seed is falling on fertile ground. None of us made the rules of the universe, but we all make the rules that govern our hearts and minds.”
Students couldn’t buy their way into We Day, they had to earn it through community service by working for one local and one global cause. Oakland students joined 180,000 others worldwide this year.
Students like 14-year-old Angela Chuang, Yorba Linda ninth-grader, worked all year on their causes. Chuang, the first winner of a $1,000 Bright Future Grant from Unilever, helped organize a food drive and a raised money to help build schools in Ecuador:
“I was extremely stressed, because people looked and said what’s the point. In the end it benefitted everyone. You can feel the positive vibes.”
Unilever is still accepting applications for 10 more available grants at creatingabrightfuture.com.
In total, students from the U.S., Canada and the UK volunteered 9.6 million hours for more than 1,000 causes worldwide, collected 4 million pounds of food and helped raise $37 million.
The We Day event was staged by Free the Children, a service learning organization founded by Craig Kielburger, a New York Times best-selling author, when he was 12-years-old:
“When I started, it was tremendously uncool.”
Wednesday’s event drew students from 420 schools representing 127 school districts with 40 percent of the kids coming from Southern California and 60 percent from Northern California.
Every performance and speech revolved around the idea that children can make the future better.
The youth filling the coliseum wore glowing wristbands powered by their movements so the stadium seemed to glow when they applauded.
Hosted by Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez, his sister Raini, and E!’s Jesse Giddings, the day began with an inspirational speech by Martin Luther King III before moving on to a series of stirring performances.
The star-studded cast of performers also had to earn their way to We Day.
Wednesday’s list of speakers and performers included the dance group Culture Shock, hip hop artist Big Sean, four-time world boxing champion Laila Ali and ensemble group Vocal Rush. Comedian Reggie Watts was also there, along with Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch, aka Luna Lovegood.
Oakland Raiders Joe Condo, Marcel Reece and Rod Streater were joined by 49ers safety Eric Reid.
Each performance or motivational speech lasted no longer than eight minutes.
In a day and age when negativity captures headlines these performers, athletes, and business people came together to promote the idea that children can change the world for the better.
San Francisco Chronicle Managing Editor Audrey Cooper dropped by to say “hi” and gave the kids a special edition of the Chronicle containing stories about youth like themselves who volunteered their time for social change.
Spoken word group Youth Speaks also performed as they addressed the need for social change and greater equality:
“People are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Not everyone has equal access to bootstraps.”