The WE Day gathering in Garland may have looked like a raucous kids' concert filled with famous faces and loud DJ music, but this gathering aspired to a higher purpose than selling tickets.
In fact, kids didn't have to pay to get into the festivities at the WE Day celebration, the first of its kind in Texas, on Tuesday at the Curtis Culwell Center. All they had to do was contribute their time to local and global causes through the WE School volunteer and awareness program.
"It's really cool," says Aadi Khasgiwala, a seventh-grader from St. Mark's School of Texas who's worked on and organized several public service projects for his Eagle Scout rank and for the WE group. "There's a lot of inspiration ... here, and I've learned a lot about what other kids are doing."
The annual WE Day celebration featured famous faces on the stage, including Ann Curry, journalist and host of the PBS show We'll Meet Again; former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith and his wife, Pat; and This is Us star
Curry, a former host of NBC's Today, who has won four Emmy Awards for her reports on injustices and stories of struggle in some of the world's most war-torn regions, told the crowd about the inspiration for her journalism work. She was a young child when her teacher explained the tragic events of the Holocaust that led to America's involvement in World War II, a moment that "broke open a well of empathy that never closed," she said.
"I've tried to let the world know that people should not suffer in silence as those who did during the Holocaust," Curry said.
Curry's stories took her to Darfur, the war-torn region of Africa where ethnic cleansing killed 50,000 to 80,000 people in 2003 and displaced 1.2 million to 2 million people, according to a report filed by the PBS series Frontline. Curry recalled the time that she and her producer found a boy named Moses, who'd been displaced by the violence and was "doing everything he could not to just stand by."
"For every name you can Google, there are countless others who have stood up for others, like me, my producer and you," Curry said. "Your empathy is your guide."
Emmitt and Pat Smith, the co-founders of Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities, say their service work comes from their drive "to touch the lives of young," Pat Smith said.
"We all have the ability to touch people's lives, and that's what we are doing here today," she said. "I've never felt so good about my life [as] when I'm touching somebody else's."
Emmitt Smith told the kids to "think outside the box" and "believe in yourself" and they could accomplish feats as big as his, like becoming the NFL's all-time rushing leader.
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"More importantly, I'm taking this platform and creating opportunities for young people like yourselves," he told the crowd. "You have what it takes to change the world."
Aadi has spent time with groups such as the North Texas Food Bank, where he packed food for 5,000 people, and the Austin Street Shelter, where he collected coats and scarves for area homeless families. He's working on a new project building doghouses for the Dallas Street Dog Advocates group so that dogs living with low-income families have adequate shelter during extreme weather.
"It gives me a lot of pleasure helping people," Aadi says. "Every time I do a project, it feels good inside seeing someone benefitting from the work I've done."