Rock stars, royalty and 18,000 Minnesota youth packed the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Oct. 8 for the first annual Minnesota We Day.
Approximately 300 middle and high school students from Anoka-Hennepin District 11 and 75 from Spring Lake Park District 16 were among them.
We Day is an initiative of Free The Children, an international charity whose mission is to educate and empower youth to change the world.
“You couldn’t buy a ticket for this event,” said Colleen Pederson, director of community services for District 16 and one of the chaperones at We Day. “[Students] were there because they committed to service projects throughout the year.”
The daylong event serves as an impetus for the next year, promoting continued service, firing up students to act.
Celebrity performers, including the Jonas Brothers and Carly Rae Jepson, and motivational speakers, such as Martin Luther King III; Spencer West, a double amputee who conquered Mount Kilimanjaro in 2012; and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, helped make We Day an unforgettable experience for students.
“It was empowering. We are the change even though we’re young – we can make a difference,” said Mikayla Krogh, an eighth-grade student at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids.
Madisen Dempsey, a senior at Spring Lake Park High School, called We Day an “amazing” experience. “One thing that I think was so great about it was the importance placed on youth voice,” she said.
Northdale students had front-row seats since the school has been working closely with Free The Children for some time, helping to build schools and bring clean drinking water overseas, among other projects.
Now-retired English language arts teacher Pam Zimba taught a child labor unit and began the school’s partnership with Free The Children years ago, working with her seventh-grade classes to financially support projects that help children overseas.
In Zimba’s final year at Northdale, two of her students started a club, Youth for Change, to educate others about child labor and poverty.
“We decided that we have to do something,” said eighth-grader Abraham Joseph, who founded Youth for Change with Tyler Young.
Now, the club has grown to nearly 70 members. English language arts teacher Holly Clark has taken over as adviser, although the club remains student-run.
Northdale students were astounded with all of the attention and recognition they received at We Day, Clark said. They were volunteering long before the event came to Minnesota. “They’re so happy to do it,” she said.
Two days later, Northdale students had another special treat. We Day performers Chris Tse, a national spoken word champion, and the Kenyan Boys Choir, who performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, stopped by to thank students and Zimba for their work.
“When there are people in this world who tell you that you can’t make a difference, they’re wrong,” Tse said.
He urged the kids to keep volunteering, reminding them that though homework isn’t always fun, the free education they have is a privilege that other children lack.
We Day Minnesota is the first event of its kind in the United States. We Day events have been a fixture in Canada since 2007.
“We’ve got 365 days until the next one, so you better believe we’ll be there next year. We’re going to be strong in our contingency from Spring Lake Park School District,” Pederson said.
Olivia Koester is at