25 Insights From UN WE Day

If you’re at all like me, you’ve gone through your life fairly unaware of what the United Nation’s WE Day (first in Toronto in 2007) and WE movement are. And similarly, you’re likely to be blown away by all the amazing work they’re doing around the world with and for children and other often disenfranchised populations. Then, like me, you may berate yourself for not having known more and being as involved as you could have been. Or maybe you’re not like me and you just want some information and are waiting for me to get on with it. Fine, don’t get so impatient. Geez. They sought to inspire young people to take action and Get Doing (I know that’s grammatically awkward, but it grows on you). Apart from the general aura of youth awesomeness and activism, here are some more specific insights I gained from attending UN WE Day.

  • There are things that matter far more than tests. This sentiment isn’t surprising and neither is the fact that it is popular with teachers. What is surprising is that the person who delivered this early message was David Coleman, College Board CEO and SAT test guy. He was quick to assert that student actions, activities, and community projects tell much more about a person’s value even to colleges than a test. He said how a video of a student’s efforts at world-changing activism would better position them for acceptance.
  • The quickest kids aren’t necessarily the smartest kids. So even though tests aren’t the end all be all they are made out to be, they are currently a requirement for many young people. So the College Board is making changes to ensure that students who can’t afford extensive test prep courses still have the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. They have even partnered with Khan Academy to offer free SAT prep to improve equity.
  • The classroom isn’t the only or even necessarily the best place to make your impact. Get kids outside the classroom to learn in their community. It’s a great way to learn about important issues related to environmental science. There are a number of partnership opportunities in New York alone. Some school even combine that with service learning or you can get connected to an outside organization like the Service Learning Project. Combine service learning with environmental science
  • Haile Thomas at WE DayAccess to good food can transform societies and the planet. Haile Thomas is a young health activist that demonstrates that how we care for our bodies can impact our outlook. And moreso, areas of the world that lack access to quality food and water force people to spend their time engaged in efforts solely to survive rather than thrive. Even in America, food deserts force people into eating in ways that don’t benefit their bodies and minds.
  • Voting is crucial. In so many places people don’t have the privilege to vote. In America, large groups were disenfranchised from voting for a long time. In abstaining from voting you are abdicating your choice and giving it those that still do. Being registered and voting is an essential part of belonging to a functioning democratic republic despite people arguing it doesn’t make a difference. That’s a self-defeating prophecy. Also, the local elections that will most affect us often have the lowest turnout. My city council district where 40,000+ people voted was decided by under 100 votes. And it has changed funding for schools, parks, and businesses in my community. It matters if you make it matter which is why I’ve made sure this year to register a few of my 40+ friends who’ve never previously voted. Check out one of the many nonpartisan voter registration organizations.
  • Vote in every way you can. Even if you’re not old enough or prevented from voting for some other reason, you can vote with how you spend your time and money. Those can make a major impact as well.
  • We all have a voice, use it to create the world you want to live in. Kendrick Sampson made it clear that no matter your age, background, or societal status, you have the power to impact the world around you just by making yourself heard.
  • You are the change and the revolutionary. You can begin by making a new choice today to spark the differences you want to see. being a revolutionary begins with deciding to change something today.
  • If we someone suffering or in need and we see it, it is up to us to reach out an take action. One of the biggest problems is that we may notice people who are hurting, depressed, or disenfranchised but we don’t think we are capable of or in a position to help them. Regardless of our age or position, we can share our humanity with another human being in need of it. One presenter shared a passage in the Qur’an that says “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let them change it with their hand; and if they are not able to do so, then with their tongue; and if they are not able to do so, then with their heart.” Put a stop to what is wrong by whatever means you can.
  • A disability is not a definition. Sparsh Shah reminds us that we determine for ourselves what is our defining feature.
  • First, you need to believe in you. Know that no one is better positioned to seek solutions for problems specific to your life than you. You may not feel like you’re enough to make real changes. The truth no one is until they decide that they are and they make it so.
  • Change your I can’t into I must. It is tremendously easy to come up with reasons why your efforts may fail. In fact, your first and second and third efforts probably will fall short of your goals. Persevere until it is true.
  • All your negative thoughts and fear are wasted. Esera Tualo spent most of his life hiding who he was behind a veneer of false machismo. Now though he is free to be an athlete, singer, activist, or whatever he wants to be a force of love in the world.
  • Small actions can add up to a big difference. The world rarely changes in a singular moment. It is small, sometimes imperceptible, changes that add up to whole cultural shifts that then become a movement. Make 1 or 2 small choices today to make the world better. If you’re not sure where to begin you can look into some youth volunteering opportunities like those sponsored by DHL.
  • image.jpgChange is possible if you have a conviction. Don’t forget why you persevere. Junior Feliz was heartlessly murdered in the Bronx. He was a light to his family and the school. His story is a continuing reminder of why they seek Justice for Junior. What is your inspiration? Hold it dearly in your heart as you fight through the many barriers you will surely encounter. Like Junior’s community, they will take his infectious kindness and spread it.
  • We are stronger together. You are not alone in your efforts. Even if you haven’t heard your challenges voiced there are probably many enduring or worrying about the same issues. Once you voice it, others will feel more comfortable in sharing. Look into sharing your expertise with WE educational partners or participating in an educational tour.
  • https_%2F%2Fblogs-images.forbes.com%2Fstevedenning%2Ffiles%2F2017%2F11%2Fworld-data-1-poverty.jpgWe’re succeeding. The world is getting better. I know it doesn’t feel like it when everything on the news is depressing and action seems sporadic and minimal at times, but the world is measurably improving. Fewer people are in extreme poverty than ever before, literacy rates are rising as is education, global child mortality is at an all-time low. Trust that efforts are making a difference even if it isn’t immediately obvious.
  • We are one race and one world and young leaders need to rescue it. Juan Manuel Santos, the former Colombian president and Nobel Prize winner, has demonstrated that even long-entrenched problems don’t have to stay that way. He makes it clear that the youth of the world will be the force that brings unity to a fractured planet.
  • There are no human rights without women’s rights. Echoing the sentiment once voiced by Hilary Clinton, Sarah Michelle Geller and other presenters made it clear that the subjugation of women in nations around the world are a key problem that needs to be addressed. Young people are encouraged to reject any society where women don’t have control of their own future.
  • Young people are the conscience of the nation. If anyone should know about young people moving to take on entrenched powers it is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She makes it clear that the heart and spirit of our country have long been with our nation’s young people. It was young people that fought for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War. From Tiananmen Square to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, young people have moved a country to action.
  • What we should be teaching is how to be good. When you grow up you should want to be a good person not just some type of worker. We should be teaching young people to serve and grow as people (social-emotional learning) in addition to academic pursuits.
  • Students rising up builds a stronger social fabric. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students remind us that one of the benefits of youth is optimism and idealism that is unmatched and can be the impetus for change. It’s the idea that today can bring a
  • What we all want is to belong and be treated with kindness. If you can achieve no other means to serve, just offering kindness to those that need it is where you can make a difference every day. Kindness spreads and its benefit is incalculable.
  • You don’t have to be a perfect version of you to help others. Sometimes it’s just important that you show up. Serving the needs of others can often be the best way to serve the needs of our own heart.
  • Write the stories now that future generations will see as heroic. Martin Luther King III reminded students that they don’t have to only be tomorrow’s leaders, but they can begin leading today. You don’t need titles, which are meaningless. You just have to strive for the best version of you. Children can be that force and as parents and teachers we can give them the roots and the wings they need to make

Look into the other opportunities offered by the WE Movement and other service and partner organizations like the Jackie Robinson Foundation, WE Read Together, or WE Walk For Water.


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