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Originally published March 24, 2013 at 8:01 PM | Page modified March 24, 2013 at 8:14 PM

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We Day concert/rally expected to draw 15,000

We Day, an event to celebrate and encourage local and global action by young people, is expected to draw 15,000 to KeyArena on Wednesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Learn more and watch the event

Go to www.weday.com to learn more about Free the Children or to watch the We Day program, starting at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.

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always amazes me, the negativity of the posts here. How can you not like this? MORE
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By themselves, jangly bracelets made from soda-can pull tabs by Emily Barrick, 15, and other Federal Way Public Academy students for a charity fashion show aren’t going to save the world.

Nor will the funky brown scarves made from shredded T-shirts by other Federal Way students, including Aimee Coronado, 12.

Same with the stack of book bags taken to a girls school in India by Bijou Basu, 16, a student at The Overlake School in Redmond.

But taken together — and combined with thousands of other acts by thousands of other students — these individual good deeds begin to have real power.

That’s the thinking behind We Day, expected to draw some 15,000 middle- and high-school students and supporters from 400 schools across the state to KeyArena Wednesday.

“When young people choose to become active for a cause ... When they are passionate about serving others, they are not alone,” said Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children, the Toronto-based charity organizing the event.

Students couldn’t buy tickets to the event, part concert and part pep rally. They earned their way in, by committing to work on at least one local and one global service project.

Performers and celebrities on tap include Jennifer Hudson, Magic Johnson, Martin Sheen, Mia Farrow, Nelly Furtado and Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil-rights leader.

Students will also hear from Spencer West, who despite having had both legs amputated, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, on his hands. And from 9-year-old Robby Novak, better known as “Kid President” in popular YouTube videos (including a recent one in which he picked Gonzaga to win the NCAA basketball tournament.)

Co-hosts are Munro Chambers and Melinda Shankar of the TV series “Degrassi,” who have made overseas trips on Free the Children projects.

This is Free the Children’s 24th We Day, and the first outside Canada.

The organization has been featured on “60 Minutes,” and past We Days have included such notable speakers as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama.

It plans to continue its international expansion with an event in Minnesota later this year, and one next year in London.

Kielburger, now 30, was 12 when he saw a news report about the murder of a boy his age in Pakistan who had been forced into working in a carpet factory at the age of 4.

With his older brother, Marc, Kielburger formed Free the Children, which hosted its first We Day in Toronto in 2007.

Since then, backers say, the events have helped raise $26 million for 900 different causes, and led to 5.1 million hours of volunteer service.

“Our goal is to systematically bring service learning into schools ... just like reading, writing and arithmetic,” Kielburger said

That’s already happening. Federal Way Public Schools, which is sending more than 1,200 students and chaperones to We Day, has a districtwide focus on service, which includes raising money for an adopted village in Sierra Leone.

In addition, individual schools have projects of their own. Federal Way Public Academy, an academics-focused alternative school, is sending about a third of its 306 students to We Day.

Projects at that school include the fashion show to benefit homeless teens in the Puget Sound area, and an annual carnival to help build a school in a village in Kenya.

At The Overlake School in Redmond, 60 students, active in a variety of causes, are planning to go to We Day. Overlake students are required to put in a number of hours each year on causes they select.

Basu, an 11th-grader at Overlake, read Kielburger’s book, “Free the Children,” four years ago and was inspired by the idea of helping people but was unsure how to get started.

Last year, she and her mother, who is from India, traveled to that country as volunteers for a Seattle-based organization, People for Progress in India. In West Bengal, they visited a school for children of commercial sex workers.

“No child should have to go through what these girls were going through,” she said. She brought them book bags and other school supplies. “I could see it really meant something to them that there were people out there who cared about them.”

Returning home, she encouraged other students to join Free the Children or other causes.

We Day chose Seattle for its U.S. debut, Kielburger said, partly because of the enthusiasm of Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll, who’ll be there with several Seahawks players. Carroll is co-chair of the event, along with Connie Ballmer, philanthropist and wife of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Carroll heard Kielburger speak two years ago at a Tacoma event honoring retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“Craig has this tremendous passion and energy about helping people,” Carroll said. “I tracked him down and I invited him to bring it to the U.S., which they were already thinking about.”

Microsoft and Amway are title sponsors of the event. The Seattle Times is among its regional media partners.

Students drawn to We Day already have decided to become active, and this will reinforce that decision, said Federal Way’s Coronado.

“I think everyone has the potential to do something great,” she said. “We Day is like a little shove to help get you going.”

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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