When Craig Kielburger co-founded Free the Children at age 12, it was the uncool thing to do.
"Today young people fill theatres ready to celebrate to change the world," he said Thursday at the We Stand Up Student Conference, where 1,400 students filled the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
The second annual conference aims to empower youth to make a difference in the world; it was started last year after a group of local students attended a We Day celebration in Winnipeg and were inspired to bring the message home.
Kielburger was one of Thursday's keynote speakers and said he's thrilled to see how the message has spread and inspired students to create their own version of We Day.
Now it's the cool thing to do, he said.
"It's a great shift from even when I was in school not that long ago," said Kielburger, who started Free the Children 20 years ago after reading an article about child slavery in a newspaper.
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Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute student Ankur Shahi was one of the students who travelled to Winnipeg two years ago and brought We Stand Up to Thunder Bay.
He was again part of the organizing committee and said he hopes the event made his peers aware of the issues that exist in Thunder Bay like bullying, racism, homophobia and other social injustices.
"I feel that students are often unaware or act as bystanders to things that exist, not necessarily within the school, but in the community as a whole. It's really important to make them aware of some of the things that are going on, so they, themselves, can begin to target the issues," said Shahi.
In addition to Kielburger, the day's lineup included anti-racism advocate Chris Tse, city Coun. Ken Boshcoff, Metis Elder Senator Robert McKay, LGBTTIQQ advocate Aiden Kivisto, Paralympian Robbi Weldon and many more.
St. Ignatius High School student Olivia Jean said they tried to choose speakers and acts that students can relate to and understand.
"People that really show us social justice and who do work to try to better the world," said the Grade 12 student.
"Our main message is that students can make a difference no matter if it's one person or a group of people. Any small difference makes a huge impact. It all builds," she said.
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