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Rachel’s Challenge – Five simple steps to end bullying

Rising from the ashes of the tragic Columbine High School shooting, the anti-bullying program, Rachel’s Challenge, is just that – a challenge. A challenge to all students to be better people and to replace hatred with kindness.

The program was named in the memory of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine shooting in 1999. After discovering an essay written by Rachel and “My ethics, my codes of life,” her parents started the program to share their daughter’s life and her expectations of people.

In this essay, Rachel challenges the reader to begin a chain reaction of kindness.

“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 wrote.

The five challenges of Rachel’s Challenge came from this essay.

At an assembly April 24, presenter Cody Hodges shared Rachel’s ideals with the students of Pocahontas County and that night, with members of the community.

Challenge One – Eliminate prejudice

“The best way for you, the best way for me, the best way for all of us to eliminate prejudice would be to simply look for the best in other people,” Hodges said. “What if we really looked for the best in other people? If we would do that, we could eliminate all kinds of prejudice.”

April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, driven by hate and disregard for others, entered Columbine High School and proceeded to kill 12 students, one teacher and injure 21 students.

Rachel’s younger brother, Craig, was very close to becoming the 13th student to die that day. In a video interview, Craig explained how he was hiding under a desk in the library with two friends, one of whom, Isaiah, was black.

“The last words he heard in his life were racial slurs toward him and the last words he said were, ‘I want my mom,’” Craig said.

When he became a part of the Rachel’s Challenge family, Hodges became friends with Craig.

“He said, ‘Cody, I don’t care where you go, wherever you speak, encourage people to eliminate prejudice,’” Hodges recalled. “He said ‘I saw prejudice as its very worse. He said ‘one of my best friends died because of the color of his skin. Encourage people to get rid of any hatred they have in their heart toward someone else that’s different than them.’”

Hodges said that prejudices go much further than race. Several of the students at Columbine where targeted by the gunmen because of their religious beliefs.

“There are a whole other type of prejudices out there that sometimes we either don’t pay attention to or we just overlook,” he said. “How about judging someone based on their religious beliefs, or somebody’s lifestyle or it could be someone’s physical appearance, not just the color of their skin, but just the way their body looks.

“Instead of judging people, what if every one of us looked for the best in others around us?” he continued.

One of Rachel’s influences in life, Anne Frank, was a victim of prejudice. Frank was killed in a concentration camp during World War II because she was Jewish. On the other hand, Harris and Kelbold were influenced by Adolf Hitler, the dictator who ordered the deaths of more than six million Jews.

“As Hitler was a negative influence on those boys, Anne Frank was the exact opposite to Rachel,” Hodges said. “She was a positive influence in Rachel’s life and because of that influence, she inspired Rachel to write the things she wrote.”

Challenge Two – Dare to dream

“Rachel had a lot of dreams, a lot of goals for her life,” Hodges said. “One of her dreams was to start a chain reaction of kindness. She literally believed that one act of kindness could start a movement of the same. That those acts of kindness would begin to ripple out and that people from all over would be inspired because of those acts of kindness.”

Rachel wrote her dreams everywhere. In her school work, in journals and on furniture. When she was 13-years-old, Rachel drew the outline of her hands on the back of her dresser. Inside her hands she wrote, “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.”

“She didn’t write that they might, she didn’t say maybe, no, she said these hands will,” Hodges said. “Over the past 13 years since Rachel died, over 17 million have heard the story about her life.”

Like Rachel, Hodges encourages everyone, young and old, to continue dreaming big and to go after their dreams.

“It doesn’t matter your circumstance, it doesn’t matter what somebody says you can’t do. You can have whatever dream that you want,” he said. “For all of you students, I want to encourage you to take the lid off of your imagination. If there’s something you want to do, go do it.”

Hodges encouraged everyone to keep a journal of goals and dreams, similar to Rachel and her inspiration, Anne Frank.

“Think about it. If Anne Frank didn’t keep a diary, not a single person would know her story,” he said. “There is power when we write things down. Rachel left her family six diaries when she died.”

Challenge Three – Choose your influences

“There are all kinds of influences that you students have,” Hodges said. “One of the biggest influences you have, every day, are your friends. I want to encourage you, whoever you hang out with, choose the right crowd because we all choose our friends. Nobody forces us to choose our friends, so for us to choose the wrong crowd, would make absolutely no sense.”

Hodges said the greatest influence a person has is their parents.

“For those of you who are raising kids, your children, they’re watching you,” he said. “They are listening to the things you say and very honestly, you should be the best influence your kids ever have. You, nobody else.”

The Columbine shooting was planned under the noses of two sets of parents. All the planning and preparation was done in either the Harris or Klebold households.

“I am not blaming those parents for what happened, but still, they had no idea what was going on inside their own home,” Hodges said. “Parents, you have a right to know what is going on in your son or your daughter’s life. Are they always going to welcome that idea? Probably not. You don’t have to be their best friend. They have plenty of friends and honestly, you need to be mom and dad.”

In many ways, Rachel became a positive influence in several lives. Her parents received several calls and letters from students whose lives were positively altered by Rachel.

A girl named Amber was the new girl at school and recalled that her first day was the worst day of her life until she met Rachel. At lunch, Amber was sitting alone when Rachel approached her and asked if she wanted to join Rachel and her friends. Amber declined the invitation, feeling self-conscious. Rachel returned to her table, gathered up her friends and took them to Amber’s table to eat lunch.

Amber told Rachel’s parents that day quickly became the best day of her life because of a simple act. The Foundation for a Better Life made a commercial inspired by this story.

Another student, Adam, was an outcast because he had special needs. He shared a story with Rachel’s parents about a day he was bullied by two male students. They were slamming him against the lockers and calling him names. It was a typical day for Adam until Rachel came out of nowhere and stood between him and the bullies. She told them they would have to hit her first if they wanted to hit Adam again.

“Columbine is a large school, nearly 2,000 students,” Hodges said. “I find it hard to believe that Adam and those two boys were the only people in the hall that day. There were tons of other people walking by and nobody would do anything. Eventually, those two boys left and Rachel and Adam became friends.

“They weren’t best friends, but when Rachel would see Adam in the hall, she would always stop and she would always talk to him,” he continued. “She would stop and ask him how he was doing because she knew nobody else at school would give him the time of day.”

Adam later explained to Rachel’s parents that he was at the end of his rope and was prepared to take his own life. He felt that he wouldn’t be missed because “nobody ever cared.” That was until Rachel intervened that day in the hall. Adam said he didn’t commit suicide because he saw the good in somebody else and that made him feel like life was worth living.

A large influence for students are their teachers. One teacher, the only teacher to die from the shootings, made a lasting impression on his students by sacrificing his life for theirs.

As the terror spread through the school, Dave Sanders ran into the cafeteria where the students were eating. He jumped on a table and told them to evacuate the building immediately. He rushed them out of the doors and then returned to the school to find more students.

“As he did this, he passed exit door after exit door, and he never left,” Hodges said. “As everybody was running down the stairs to leave the building, Dave Sanders turned to run back up the stairs to where he heard the gunshots. He went to confront the two boys coming down the hall. He pleaded with them to stop what they were doing. When he realized they weren’t going to stop, he turned and ran back toward the library. The two boys shot him in the back and Dave Sanders lost his life that day.”

The epicenter of the two gunmen’s plan was the cafeteria. They planned to detonate several bombs to take out a large portion of the student body. When the bombs failed, Harris and Klebold began shooting students throughout the school. Sanders saved hundreds of students from the gunmen who were heading for the cafeteria.

Challenge Four – Kind Words

“Our words, the things we say to one another have so much power,” Hodges said. “Our words have the ability to build somebody up or they could tear them down just as quick.”

Hodges said a lot of people like to joke, but don’t realize that the subject of their jokes is not laughing.

“Students, imagine you’re the student in second block that gets made fun of every day, or you’re the kid on the bus that gets messed with the whole way home,” he said. “Think about that one family that’s been talked about behind their backs for the past 15 years. I promise you, they don’t think it’s funny.”

Spoken words aren’t the only hurtful words. Texts, emails and posts of Facebook pack the same punch that spoken words carry.

“None of us have any idea what the next person is going through, so I just want to encourage you to be a person that would speak with kindness,” Hodges said. “I’m not asking you to become best friends with everybody, but how about we just speak with kindness. I think we all know that our words can hurt, but they do have the power to heal.”

Rachel’s words and actions toward her friend, Adam, saved his life. The simple act of standing up for him and becoming his friend gave Adam a new lease on life. Amber felt more comfortable in a new school because Rachel made her first lunch at Columbine less stressful just by sitting with her.

Hodges challenged the students to follow Rachel’s example.

“Please do something for me. Instead of sitting with the same people at the same lunch table every single day, go sit with somebody else tomorrow, please,” he said. “I was in your cafeteria today and it was so easy to spot the different clicks and the different groups. As I looked around, there were three or four students who were by themselves. Go sit with them. Invite them to sit with you, please, because you never really know what someone is going through.”

Challenge Five – Start a chain reaction

“Our lives are going to have an impact on the people around us,” Hodges said. “Every day, your life and my life has an impact on somebody. This whole thing came about because of one girl. She had a heart for people and because of that her story, the story of Rachel Scott, has been told to millions and millions of people.”

Rachel believed that a chain reaction could be started by one simple act of kindness. That every person can be kind if they set their lives on the right path.

“Every one of us here tonight has a story,” Hodges said. “Your story doesn’t start when you graduate from high school. Your story doesn’t start when you graduate from college, or when you become a parent, or when you reach this magical age. For every one of us tonight, our story has already started. Every one of us in here, we write our story every day from our choices and how we treat people.”

Hodges asked the audience if they would be happy with the story of their lives if today was their last day. He said if that story is not the story you want to be remembered for, then change. Start over.

“We’re all going to be remembered for something and I don’t know about you, but I want to be remembered as a person like Rachel Scott, who made a difference with the life that I was given by the way I treated people,” he said. “I don’t think it matters who you were when you walked in, I think it matters who you are when you walk out of here. Start writing a story that you would be proud of.”

As part of the Rachel’s Challenge program, several high school and middle school students were selected to learn about the Friends of Rachel club. The students were given information on how to start a FOR club at their schools.

All the schools have a banner that states “I accept Rachel’s Challenge.” The students and teachers are encouraged to sign the banner as they decide to take on the challenge. If you are inspired to by Rachel’s Challenge, visit one of the five county schools and sign a banner.

For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org

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