The Band Perry, Common, Magic, Marlee and more attend private We Day Illinois party

I knew this party would be a bit more than a networking get-together when I ran into Magic Johnson on the stairwell.  As it turned out, the event was a preview for what was to come on the following day, April 30, the official day We Day came to Illinois at the Allstate Arena.

The invitation gave no clue as to what to expect for We Day Illinois‘ private inaugural celebration reception at Kenmare Lofts in Chicago on April 29.  It read, “On behalf of We Day co-chair Tom Wilson, we are happy to be hosting you at our first annual We Day Illinois Celebration Reception, graciously brought to you by Allstate Insurance Company.”   The rest of it offered the time for “registration and interactive food stations” , 6 pm, and “welcome remarks and performances” at 6:30 with “networking” beginning at 7:45—No mention of the excitement that was to come.

Co-chairs for the event were Common (award-winning hip hop artist/actor/founder of Common Ground Foundation) and the aforementioned Tom Wilson (chairman/president/CEO Allstate Insurance).  As Common stood onstage at this rather small venue, it struck me how perfect he is for this event as he is all about raising people up, especially the kids.  “The greatest among us is the one who serves,” he said and the crowd cheered.  Wilson referred to We Day as “building the collective soul of the nation.”

Marlee Matlin, another We Day supporter, spoke through a translator and shared an inspiring story about actor/producer Henry Winkler, who encouraged her to strive even though some people gave up on her due to her deafness.  After winning an Oscar, those people were silenced.

A highlight of the event was Magic Johnson who is a riveting speaker.  He had the crowd in the palm of his hand when he recounted the story of Michael Jordan’s “move” in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals.  (See Magic’s funny comments here)

He also had them on their feet when he announced that he would be providing a full college scholarship for two of the We Day student speakers, Justin Carmickle, a senior at DeVry Academy who has completed 200 hours of community service, and Destiny Watson, a junior at Homewood Flossmoor High School, who founded You Matter, a youth group composed of Illinois high school students who “want to change the world.”  “Our family is more than the people who live under our roof,” she said.   Both students cried tears of joy as We Day co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger hugged them all after Magic’s surprising announcement.

We Day is an initiative of the international charity Free the Children that is designed to celebrate the actions youth are taking in their local and global communities.  It celebrates and inspires this generation’s shift from me to we and is one of the world’s largest registered charities on social media with more than five million followers.  This year, hundreds of thousands of young people will come together in stadium-sized events in 14 cities to take part in this unprecedented educational initiative.

Other notables in attendance at the reception included actor Martin Sheen, Deputy Mayor Steven Koch, Kweku Mandela (grandson of the late Nelson Mandela), actor Dennis Haysbert, motivational speaker Spencer West,  Lt. Colonel Eileen Collins (the first woman in space), U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and wife Vicky and so many more.

For the finale, the award-winning country western singing sensation, The Band Perry, performed!

How cool is this?

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