Booneville High School and Junior High School students, as well as community members were challenged last week to adopt a kinder, gentler approach to their fellowman.
Dubbed Rachel’s Challenge the challenge was made on behalf of Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year girl who on April 20, 1999 was the first to die in the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
A five pronged approach to life, Rachel’s Challenge was presented by her uncle, Larry Scott, and is derived largely from diary and journal writings of the student known for her care of others.
"Be the change you want to see in this world," Larry Scott said.
In the days after her death Rachel Scott’s father, Darrell Scott, located a copy of an essay his daughter had written for a fifth period class in which she urged starting "what she called a chain reaction of kindness and compassion," said Larry Scott.
"I have this theory that if one person will go out of their way to show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same," Larry Scott read. "People will never know how far a little kindness can go.
"My codes may seem like a fantasy, but test it yourself you may just start a chain reaction."
Scott’s presentation included a series of videos to emphasize Challenge points, including one from Rachel Scott’s brother, Craig, who described the horror of watching 10 people die and a dozen others be wounded in the high school library that day – having already heard, though unknowingly, the gunfire that murdered his sister.
"It’s a day that I will never forget as long as I live," said Larry Scott, whose own children were also at the school that day, daughter Sarah running for her life and a son in another part of the school. "It’s a day I hope you guys never have to see.
"My videos can’t show it; my words can’t tell you how bad it really was."
Killed beside Craig Scott were two of Craig Scott’s friends, one an African American who was taunted with racial slurs before a shotgun blast to the head. Scott said his nephew, who survived only because the gunmen were distracted by the activation of a sprinkler system, caused, literally, by their smoking guns.
Larry Scott said his nephew urged him to issue a challenge that students remove all prejudices, which works hand in hand with Rachel’s challenge to look for the best in others, not the worst.
Rachel Scott believed, Larry Scott said, you should give someone three chances before judging them and by looking for the best in classmates, teachers and others it will "make you a better person.
The second portion of the Challenge is to dream big, which Rachel fulfilled even as a 13-year old who wrote on the back of her dresser that she would impact the world.
Larry Scott also drew parallels between his niece and Anne Frank, who both kept diaries in which they seemingly foretold of their deaths at young ages, but were able to affect the world because they kept journals and clearly stated written goals. The Challenge included students starting a good habit of keeping their own journals for 30 days.
Further parallels between Rachel Scott and Frank included both losing their lives due to the influence to the same man, Adolph Hitler.
Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold chose Hitler’s birthday for their attack, as noted in their own diaries, which was expected to include bomb detonations and firing upon students exiting the building rather than a building entrance.
The Challenge employs students to select positive role models, unlike those of the killers. For Rachel Scott those included Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose writing urged an end of a chain reaction of evil, which Rachel Scott adapted to her chain reaction of kindness.
"What you feed on all the time is what will influence what you will be," said Larry Scott. "It does matter what we want, what we look at, what we experience in life, who we hang out with, what we read. It all matters."
The fourth point of the Challenge is simply to show kindness. For that Rachel Scott determined to reach out to those with special needs, new students and those who are picked on and put down by others.
"After her death our family received hundreds, up to the thousands of emails, phone calls and letters from students and people she had reached out to," said Larry Scott.
One incident would prevent a suicide of a special needs student; another became a public service reenactment by A Foundation For A Better Life.
Obviously those actions can be looked down upon by others, leading to peer pressure, a subject Rachel Scott broached in a letter to her cousin, Sarah.
"Don’t let your character change color with its environment. Find you who you are and let it stay its true color," Rachel Scott wrote.
The final piece of the Challenge was to tell those you love of those feelings because of the uncertainty of life and in hopes of starting your own chain reaction.