Marc Kielburger, Martin Sheen and Craig Kielburger at a May 28 event where Sheen reaffirmed his commitment to Free the Children, founded by the Kielburgers. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Martin Sheen’s activism is all in the family

  • May 31, 2012

Martin Sheen grew up in a home where rights were something you fought for.

The actor’s activism was inspired by his immigrant father who risked his factory job fighting for the right to unionize despite having 10 children and a wife at home relying on the wage he earned.

“It was an introduction into the real world,” said Sheen, recalling his father’s teachings of pride against prejudice. “My father was my hero, he struggled against prejudice (and) against the system basically.”

As Sheen aged he realized this wasn’t the struggle of one man, or one family or even one work place; it was a global struggle of self-worth.

“I went to a Catholic high school and was encouraged by the heroes that were emerging as I was reaching my adolescence,” said Sheen, who remembers protesters facing water cannons with Martin Luther King, Jr. “Eventually I became involved in the civil rights movements and many other causes.”

Now 71, Sheen’s quest for social justice hasn’t softened as he continues to tie his name to causes while recognizing the accomplishments of younger activists. On May 28, Sheen reaffirmed his commitment to Free The Children and celebrated the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s (TCDSB) lengthy partnership with the organization.

Founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger in 1995, Free the Children is an international youth-based charity that has a presence in 45 countries. The organization formed after the brothers read a newspaper article which told the tale of a young Pakistani slave who escaped, spoke out and was killed for doing so.

As an organization grounded in the idea of the power of youth, it seemed only fitting that Free the Children, the TCDSB and Sheen collectively recognized Chaminade College School student Alex Escobar for his activism.

“I feel honoured,” said the 16-year-old Grade 11 student. “I still really want to help more. I haven’t done enough yet, really. I feel like I could do so much more.”

Escobar spearheaded the school’s first blood donor clinic which raised 30 units of blood, organized Pasta Bingo Night raising money for a student lunch program in India and helped co-ordinate a karaoke night fundraiser.

The next initiative Escobar plans to bring to Chaminade is What’s Your Type, a movement which aims to raise awareness about the need for stemcells.

“I don’t know how to explain it, I see everything and I just want to make a change because the way the world is today, it’s not good enough,” said Escobar. “Hopefully I can make my contributions and get everyone else to do things as well.”

While Escobar’s inspiration comes from many places these days, he remembers the source of the original spark. As a high school freshman Escobar had the opportunity to become involved with a Me to We group, a branch of Free the Children. 

“That’s really when I first started. They handed me a book, and I read Craig Kielburger’s book,” he said. “That inspired me.”

When not directly involved in a cause, or in class, Escobar travels to other TCDSB schools giving motivational speeches to encourage his peers to get involved with a cause.

“We are the future. What better than to teach our young to group up and take action,” said Escobar. “It becomes a cycle afterwards.”

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