On April 24, 2014 approximately 1400 students from 45 secondary and elementary school both in the city and from the region, attended the We Stand Up Student Conference at the Community Auditorium. The theme of the youth-led event was to engage, empower and encourage students to stand up against bullying, racism, social injustice, and many other issues that impact young people locally, regionally and globally, and to encourage students to make positive changes in their schools, in their lives, and in their community. As an adult attendee, you could feel change happening in the room. Students and their staff leaders provided videos of student-led projects that were shared with all. To say that the day was exhilarating, would be an understatement.
I was particularly impacted by the message that Chris Tse gave during his presentations. He discussed how, as a young man he had been very close to his friend KC. In secondary school they had chosen different paths that landed them in very different destinations, his on the speaker circuit with Free the Children, KC in a secure facility for those charged with a serious criminal offence. It is difficult for me to capture Chris’ message in this brief writing, but essentially his message was that we all have a responsibility to take action, not to be bystanders. He wondered what might have happened had he, even once, invited his friend KC to join the lacrosse team or try out for volleyball. What impact could that have had on the trajectory of KC’s life? That message resonated with me. I reflected on the number of times that I may have missed opportunities to positively impact another’s life through my actions or my words.
As an educator living in a small community such as Thunder Bay, I have the benefit of frequently meeting former students or parents of students whom I have taught. Our brief conversations always revolve around how they are doing, what they are doing, and what their plans are. I feel very fortunate to be able to keep so many connections and I acknowledge that it is an incredible responsibility that comes with the privilege of working with young people.
I will admit that at times, I will take the easier path. I will ignore things or let people act in ways or say things that make me feel uncomfortable. Moving forward, I am going to make a personal effort to, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, be the change I want to see in the world. I am going to commit to having more of those courageous conversations, despite the fact they will be difficult at times. In my opinion, we should follow the lead of our youth. We should all stand up!