On April 20, 1999, two teenagers walked into their own high school in Littleton, Colorado and went on a shooting rampage that ultimately killed thirteen people. The two shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, then turned the gun on themselves. The Columbine school shootings were the worst in United States history and prompted discussions and outcries across the country. Although many debated the issue of gun control, the central focus of discussions across the country amongst parents, children and educators was on bullying. The two young gunmen had extensive histories of being bullied at school and were perceived as social outcasts, which no doubt contributed to and motivated their actions at Columbine High School. But before the country even began to discuss anti-bullying initiatives, there was one girl who was already working on it; her name was Rachel Scott. Rachel was the first victim that was killed in the Columbine massacre.
Out of Rachel’s death came revelation — she had left her writings behind, including six diaries filled with her visions of kindness, compassion and changing the world. In her final school essay before she died, she wrote these words, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” Rachel was inspired by Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King and their messages of hope, kindness and a call to be compassionate to others. Rachel’s life and legacy was to effect change in a purposeful and meaningful way, to affect the lives of those around her.
Rachel’s Challenge, a non profit, was born out of the seeds that Rachel planted while here on this earth. Her simple ministry of kindness and compassion led others to contact the Scott family and relay to them how Rachel’s simple acts of kindness had changed their lives, even saved their lives in some cases. “Rachel’s message is a timeless story,” said Larry Scott, Rachel’s uncle and one of the 52 speakers that travels around the world sending out her message, “kindness is one of the nine fruits of the spirit, that was Rachel.”
Scott left his business after 28 years in the construction industry to join his brother Darrell to be part of Rachel’s Challenge full time. “Columbine changed our lives forever. Before I left my business, God was already speaking to me and preparing me for this. I had confirmation in my spirit before I was even asked to come on board. As a follower of Jesus, there is always something you have to give up to gain.”
God has always been the center for the Scott family. “Our dad was a preacher in the south. We were raised in the church; it’s in our blood,” said Scott, “our story is a spiritual story.”
The program first began in churches, and then was taken out into the world. To date, over 22,000 schools have been affected by Rachel’s challenge. Since the program started, over 23 million people have heard Rachel’s story around the world, at least eight school shootings have been prevented, and over 500 suicides have been averted. “When people see it, they see the impact it has on kids and adults. It is a life changing experience, not just a presentation,” said Scott.
And Rachel’s Challenge has grown substantially. The organization has 52 speakers and has gone into 13 other countries. They are in 1500 schools a year, and are affecting the lives of young people across the globe.
“The emails we receive are just amazing,” said Scott. “Receiving an email from a kid who said that they were going to kill themselves until they saw this program just speaks volumes about Rachel’s message.”
Impacting Broward County
To bring this incredible program to Broward County, The Choose Peace/Stop Violence initiative, a partnership between United Way of Broward County, Broward County Public Schools and Children’s Services of Broward County, joined forces. Anita Fraley, community relations manager with the United Way of Broward County for the Choose Peace/ Stop Violence initiative, sees the incredible change that Rachel’s message has affected in such a short amount of time. “The feedback has been incredibly positive,” said Fraley. “The kids are on board.”
Rachel’s challenge has become part of a broader vision of the Choose Peace/ Stop Violence Initiative that is following a national trend for schools and community partners to become pro active in establishing programs designed with an anti-bullying and youth violence prevention message. “This initiative is not just one event. We have put in place an infrastructure to carry the message forward. Since the creation of the initiative in 2010, we now sponsor designated school-based peace clubs for the past two years.” Research shows fighting incidents were reduced by 48 percent in Broward County Schools that fully implemented the Choose Peace Initiative.
One of those students who is a product of that initiative is Jonathan Todd, who is now the president for Agents of Change Choose Peace Club at Piper High School in Sunrise. “I have seen more change on campus this year than the previous year,” said Todd. “We want to make everyone safer, and make it a school for everyone, for the people who may be outliers.”
Scott said, “It is so easy to find the worst in other people, but it takes a special mature person to find the best in other people. I challenge these kids to find the best in people, which in turn makes them a better person. I challenge them to look for the best in everyone they meet.”
To learn more about how you can bring Rachel’s Challenge to your organization, you can visit their website at www. Rachelschallenge.org. For more information on the Broward County Schools’ Choose Peace/Stop Violence initiative visit www.choosepeacestopviolence.org or contact Anita Fraley at United Way of Broward County at 954-453-3727.
Melissa Zelniker Presser is a Jewish believer in Jesus who is chasing her God-sized dream of becoming a full-time writer. She can be contacted at [email protected].