Peters Township residents may be familiar with the story of Rachel Joy Scott, who died at age 17 as the first victim of the April 20, 1999, shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Darrell Scott, her father, visited the township last year to present Rachel’s Challenge, a program that has at its heart the message of starting a “chain reaction of compassion and kindness,” based on something his daughter wrote shortly before her death.
In addition to a community presentation, all five Peters Township School District buildings, hosted age-appropriate versions of the program.
This week, Rachel’s Challenge presenter Chris Mowery visited to launch the second year of helping to fulfill the program’s mission in Peters.
“When people ask me, ‘What should it look like when Rachel’s Challenge comes, when people embrace it, when they really go all out to make it the best it can be?’ – this is what it should look like,” he said during a community presentation Tuesday at the high school. “So, kudos to everyone who made that happen.”
The program is presented internationally, for more than 25 million people so far, with the stated mission of “making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect, and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.”
Efforts in that regard grew out of writings and illustrations Darrell Scott found in Rachel’s journals and school papers after her death.
“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,” a passage from one of Rachel’s writings read. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
The declaration in particular struck a chord and helped lead to Rachel’s Challenge.
“Everything that we talk about in Rachel’s Challenge is based on those words,” Mowery said. “What we encourage the students to do is to live this out, to be that one person who goes out of their way and shows compassion every chance they get.”
That goes for adults, too, Mowery said.
“You should try being the guy who talks about kindness and compassion for a living, and then yell at your kids. They remind me of this instantly,” he said about his daughter – she’s named Rachel Joy – and two sons, “and I’m glad they do. I need to be held accountable. The last thing I need to do is tell my kids, ‘You know what? Be nice to your friends at school. Don’t pick on people,’ and then have them see me yelling.”
As such, he encouraged parents to act appropriately in front of their children.
“If they don’t, it’s not going to take,” he said. “It’s not going to have the impact, because they’re going to model what they see. That influence is going to dominate how they act when they go to school.”
“Be a positive influence” is one of five challenges that Mowery presented to his audience as part of the overall Rachel’s Challenge. Also on the list:
Look for the best in others
Based on one of Rachel Scott’s writings – “If you look for the best in other people, then you won’t have a problem with prejudice” – the recommendation also draws heavily from what her brother Craig, a fellow Columbine High School student, experienced the day of the shootings.
He was with an African-American friend who was subjected to racial slurs before he was shot, and Craig Scott survived because the school’s sprinkler system was activated and distracted the gunmen.
When Mowery started presenting for Rachel’s Challenge, Craig gave him a message.
“Chris, whenever you go out and share my sister’s story, I need you to challenge people to get rid of any prejudice they have in their hearts for people who are different than them,” Mowery said Craig told him.
Many instances have surfaced of Rachel Scott’s belief that she would have a major influence on many people.
“Don’t put limits on what I can do. I have faith. Why can’t you? I want to show the world what I have. I won’t be labeled as average,” one of her writings states.
Again, having lofty goals can apply to everyone.
“It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in,” Mowery said. “It’s never too late for you to have a dream that you can have an impact on the world.”
Speak with kindness
“We were all raised with ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me,’” Mowery said. “But we all know in reality, that is not the case. Our words have the power to hurt, and they have the power to heal. It’s up to each one of us to choose how we use that power.”
Start your own chain reaction
In addition to focusing on other components of Rachel’s Challenge, Mowery suggested a way to get the ball rolling effectively.
“Pick up the phone. Make a visit. Tell people you love them. Tell them you’re sorry, when you need to. Tell them you forgive them, when you need to,” he said.
“The older we get, the more stubborn we get, and the more we wait for the other person to say those things. But part of showing kindness and compassion means stepping up and being willing to do that, so we don’t have to live the regrets of ‘what if?’ because we waited too long.”
For more information, visit rachelschallenge.org.