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Thursday, March 20, 2014 | return to: news & features, local


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11-year-old on center stage for We Day in Oakland

by rebecca rosen lum, j. correspondent

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Worldwide activism is undergoing a sea change, says Daniel Lurie, co-founder and CEO of Tipping Point Community, a Bay Area–based nonprofit that brings donors face-to-face with communities of need.

The main difference, he says: People are playing leadership roles at younger and younger ages.

Daniel Lurie
Daniel Lurie
Lurie should know. He has helped pull together We Day, a traveling cavalcade of youth empowerment that draws huge stadium crowds and is coming to California for the first time on Wednesday, March 26 in Oakland. As many as 16,000 students from more than 400 schools across the state are expected to attend.

The speakers at Oracle Arena that day will include a wealth of social activists and public figures, including: boxing champion Laila Ali, actor-director Seth Rogen, actress-singer Selena Gomez and basketball legend Magic Johnson. And listed right alongside them and all the others — from hip-hop artists to actors from TV’s “Modern Family” and the “Harry Potter” movies — is 11-year-old Hannah Alper from Toronto.

Lurie, 37, says he is looking forward to meeting Hannah, who serves as an ambassador for Free the Children, an international nonprofit that helps raise funds and awareness for such issues as human trafficking, illiteracy and the cycle of poverty.

At the age of 9, Alper launched her own blog, “Call Me Hannah” (http://www.callmehannah.ca). In it, she talks about organizing shoreline and neighborhood cleanups. Her aim is to inspire others to think globally and act as locally as the kitchen sink.

“We wanted to be eco-friendly in my house,” the fifth-grader says in a telephone interview in advance of her trip to Oakland. “Regular cleaning supplies are hazardous for your house and the world. And all it takes is vinegar and baking soda. It is so amazing.”

The blog has helped turned Hannah into a tween dynamo.

Hannah Alper
Hannah Alper
She has participated in previous We Day events across Canada and elsewhere, sharing the stage with the likes of actor Martin Sheen and Martin Luther King III. She also helped launch Free the Children’s “We Create Change” campaign and was the official “eco-blogger” for the JUNO Awards (Canada’s music awards).

She is a media darling in Canada, having appeared on the “Canada AM” television show, the CBC radio show “Fresh Air” and in dozens of other media. Recently she was named to a Toronto publication’s “Menschies List,” which was subtitled “People who make Toronto great.” She was cited “for sticking up for the little guys — kids, that is.”

Kids, and the empowerment of them, is the whole idea behind We Day, which started with one event in Toronto in 2007 and his grown into a large-scale tour. This year’s schedule through Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom is expected to draw more than 180,000 youth.

Started by the Free the Children charity, the event now has big sponsors such as Microsoft. Though no public tickets are available, all of the events are free for student groups that promise to do projects that help create positive change in the world.

To announce We Day California, “Glee” star Jacob Artist visited Burton Academic High School in San Francisco last month. Actress Natalie Portman is one of the event’s co-chairs, along with Lurie and others.

“What we’ve learned is that it’s never too early to get involved,” Lurie says.

Hannah is living proof of that. She says she was inspired in part by Malala Yousafzai, a young student in Pakistan who survived a head wound after being shot by Islamic radicals opposed to education for girls. Undeterred, Malala has continued to urge girls to pursue schooling.

For the Oakland event, Hannah excitedly says that she is working on a message in Hebrew for Rogen, who, like her, is a Canadian who attended Jewish summer camp. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, attending Camp Gescher, a Jewish overnight camp in Ontario.

Hannah’s family does not affiliate with a synagogue, but Hannah loves Israeli dancing and Shabbat activities. In one of her recent writings, Hannah addressed her Jewishness.

“Everything that I do with my blog, and with Free the Children is tikkun olam and tzedakah,” she wrote. “Tikkun olam is to repair the world, and that is what we are trying to teach. Tzedakah means charity, volunteering to do good, giving clothes to the homeless, cleaning up litter, that is tzedakah.”

As an adult, Hannah says she plans to continue advocating for a clean environment and raising awareness about child labor.

“In five years from now I’ll do the same things only bigger,” she says. “It’s all about the spark. Mine is the environment.”


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