Nonprofit born out of death of Rachel Joy Scott at Columbine High School tragedy in 1999

Published in the April 26 – May 9, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Columbine High School became infamous in April 1999 as the site of one of the worst school shootings in America. Of the many victims whose lives were taken by the two shooters, the first victim, Rachel Joy Scott, has since become as well-known as the terrible event. In the weeks following the massacre, Rachel’s family discovered more about her life and her commitment to spreading kindness throughout our world.

In honor of her life, Rachel’s family created Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying program that spreads awareness of her kindness and compassion, in hopes that others might also commit to living their lives centered around these values. Live Oak High School hosted Rachel’s Challenge in January 2017. There were three presentations, two for students and one for parents. While many people had seen it before, the presentation still gave people the opportunity to evaluate their own kindness and compassion. The silence that was present throughout the presentation proved that people were thinking about their own lives and whether or not they had been acting in a way they were proud of.

Rather than focusing on her untimely death, the program spends the majority of the time allowing students to get to know Rachel and how she lived her life. The stories that show how Rachel dedicated her life to spreading kindness are moving and heartrending enough to bring most of the people who see the presentation to tears. One story tells of how Rachel befriended a new girl by bringing her friends to the table where the new girl sat alone, even after the new girl told Rachel that she was fine being by herself. Another story tells of how she threatened to fight the boys bullying a boy with special needs if they didn’t leave him alone. This act of compassion saved the boy from committing suicide that very day.

Rachel believed that even a small act of kindness could result in a wider manifestation of kindness. She wrote in an English essay on her code of life that she had a “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.”
In the 18 years since Rachel’s death, it turns out she was right all along. In her life, Rachel performed small tasks of compassion that added up to create a huge influence on millions of people who have since heard Rachel’s story. The story of her compassion has affected all who have heard it and has brought about tremendous change in the way people treat each other.

Regardless of the deep emotions invoked in the students through Rachel’s stories, the program doesn’t simply explain how Rachel lived her life — it challenges them to live theirs in the same way. It would be an insult to Rachel’s memory to focus only on the early end to Rachel’s kind life and ignore the way in which she lived her life. In an effort to spread kindness as Rachel did, the presentation calls for each student to accept Rachel’s Challenge.
Consisting of five simple deeds, Rachel’s Challenge invites students to embrace a way of kindness in their lives just like Rachel did.

  • Look for the best in others
  • Dream big
  • Choose positive influences
  • Speak with kindness
  • Start your own chain reaction

Even if you didn’t see the Rachel’s Challenge presentation at Live Oak High School, I urge you to accept its philosophy of treating other people. I am also going to impose upon you my own challenge.
When you are faced with someone who is different from yourself, I want you to remember that the person in front of you is a human being and consequently deserves to be treated with every dignity and respect you would grant to anyone else.

Behave toward everyone with the same hospitable and kind manner, and make sure other people act in the same way. Even when people are trying to ban others from entering their countries, even when people are still having to fight for their rights, even when you are wrapped up in your own life, even when it seems as though everyone is at war against everyone else, remember everyone is a human being and, therefore, equal.

Rachel Joy Scott and her life have touched the hearts of millions of people and will be able to continue to have a powerful impact as long as people truly accept Rachel’s Challenge to live a life of kindness.


Ashley Cowell

Ashley Cowell

Contributor at Morgan Hill Life
Ashley Cowell is a junior at Live Oak High School. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.
Ashley Cowell