Eric Harris shot and killed 17-year-old Columbine student Rachel Scott while she was sitting on the lawn outside the school library, eating lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo, who was grievously wounded. Richard later said Rachel died while the shooter mocked her belief in God, which prompted the religious right to turn her into a martyr. Unfortunately, that characterization may have made the left turn away from her story; but she had a one – quite a compelling one.
Rachel was a thespian who loved to wear bright colors and unusual hats. She was planning on spending the summer of 1999 building houses in Botswana. Rachel was shot multiple times, in the leg, the arm, the chest and the head, and one of those many bullets lodged in her personal journal where she had written on the cover:
“I write not for the sake of glory. Not for the sake of fame. Not of the sake of success. But for the sake of my soul.”
Rachel wanted to be writer and writers write. She left behind six journals when she was murdered, journals which have been compared to the famous Diary of Anne Frank. In them, the young woman who would soon be so brutally killed, talks about kindness and forgiveness, and her “code for life”:
1. Leave a legacy of kindness.
2. Show compassion.
3. Practice pre-acceptance.
4. Learn from your mistakes.
5. Forgive yourself and others.
Rachel’s code has become Rachel’s Challenge, a program for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders across the country, kids who weren’t even born in 1999 when the Columbine massacre shocked a nation. (For a day or two, anyway.) Michael Dorsey, one of the people who presents Rachel’s Challenge to the students, says it is more than a bullying program.
“Don’t harp on the problem (of bullying),” he said. “Find a solution.”
The people of Rachel’s Challenge thinks that solution is to teach kindness to kids in middle school, an age group often empathy-challenged.
“You never know the power of kindness and compassion,” Dorsey tells the students in the presentation.
The kids are asked to sign a banner pledging their intention to be kinder. They promise to make amends and ask forgiveness from students they have treated badly. Each school is helped in forming a FOR (Friends of Rachel) Club of students and teachers. Members receive special training in how to implement Rachel’s Challenge and in how to identify and reach out to students who might need a little extra kindness.
Rachel’s Challenge says its mission is to “motivate, educate and bring positive change to many young people”. The organization has developed a team of over 30 presenters worldwide and thousands of school kids have taken the pledge. Rachel herself was posthumously awarded the National Kindness Award for Student of the Year by the Acts of Kindness Association in 2001.
In life she was a high school senior. In death she has become a “public person”.
A week before she died, Rachel Scott wrote in an essay:”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.” Fifteen years after her death, Rachel Scott has certainly started a chain reaction. I only wish Rachel’s Challenge had a way to teach their message to adults.