I don’t know who launched the first attack, but I found myself on the offensive in the first snowball fight of my adult life. Packing an early Winnipeg snowfall into balls of ammunition, I barely had a moment to consider how odd it was to be caught in a celebrity snowball fight as a sort of extension of my work.
Lonnie Chavis, a child star famous for his role as a young Randall in NBC’s This Is Us, had joined us to speak at WE Day Manitoba, one of our huge celebrations of youth service across North America and the UK. He was one among a roster of Hollywood actors and community heroes to speak alongside each other at the event.
After the celebration wrapped earlier that afternoon, Lonnie told me he’d never seen snow before. Lucky for the 11-year-old southern California native, winter had come early in Winnipeg, and there was a fresh dusting of the stuff just outside. I knew what we had to do. A couple other speakers from the celebration — Indigenous activist Sarain Fox and TV host Deepa Prashad — joined me and Lonnie as we headed into the cold.
Some of the kids who’d been in attendance — some of the thousands of young volunteers who’d made the field trip to WE Day — were piling out of the arena to head back to school. Soon, Lonnie had an army of eager volunteers on his team, happy to show him how to pack a good snowball. Before long, dozens of shrieking kids were playing with us in the frosty parking lot, lobbing fresh snowballs at each other and ducking behind parked cars as make-shift shields (my belated apologies go out to the cars’ owners). None of the kids seemed to realize they were pelting an actor from a TV show that’s won multiple Emmys.
Later, I thought about the nature of celebrity, that kids often look to those in the spotlight as role models. But everyone hurling snow in that parking lot was an unsung hero. You can’t buy a ticket to WE Day. Instead, young people earn their way to the celebration by volunteering in their communities or working for social change. That means that each one of the kids in that snowball fight had made a difference over the past year, whether by organizing a food drive, raising awareness of a global issue, fundraising for a cause, or volunteering for a local organization. If you think about it that way, each one of those kids deserves a spotlight.
The whole province of Manitoba is brimming with stars. This year alone, young Manitobans volunteered over 173,000 hours for over 100 causes. A whopping 120,000 students participate in our WE Schools service programs in Manitoba, where they make action plans for causes close to home and around the world.
When Lonnie took the stage that day, his message to young people was to value our differences and lift each other up.
“In order for our mission to be a success, we need to amplify the voices of all people. So, let’s stand as one. Now is the time to fight for equality. If you’re with me, put your peace signs in the air!”
I watched as a sea of peace signs rose up in the theatre.
“This is what solidarity looks like,” Lonnie said.
And he was right. As I looked out on the crowd, I saw a generation of youth who stood in solidarity, not just for equality, but for a larger mission to make their world a better place.
When I see kids like Lonnie advocating for equality, or students in Hamilton, Ontario collecting thousands of food items to feed those in need, or a class in London, England cleaning up their local riverbanks, I feel so much hope, knowing that the future of the world is in the capable hands of extraordinary young people. These kids are brilliant and determined and brave and kind.
Oh — and a few of them also know how to pack a pretty good snowball.