HAWLEY, PA — Darrell Scott is not a stereotype motivational speaker. Dressed in faded jeans and sea-washed polo, his low-key day-long presentation at Woodloch Pines nightclub on Friday, September 6, to an audience of over 250, including educators, students, school administrators, clergy, business and civic leaders, was one of humility and quiet dignity. The father of Rachel Scott, the first of 13 people to be killed by two shooters at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, Scott left a successful career as marketing director for a gourmet frozen food company to become a salaried employee of Rachel’s Challenge, the nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the ideals of inclusivity, compassion and forgiveness that Rachel espoused.
Responding to questions from the media about how and when Rachel’s Challenge got its start, Scott explained that it was an outgrowth of his testimony before Congress, an experience Scott described as an effort by politicians to make the Columbine tragedy a clarion call for gun control legislation. From Scott’s perspective, legislation is an inadequate means of addressing gun violence. Pointing out that the Columbine shooters’ rampage broke dozens of existing laws, he insists that legislation can neither prevent criminal behavior, nor instill moral direction. To do that, he says calmly, hearts must be changed.
Scott went on to say that, although he’d lived with her for all 17 years of her life, he didn’t really know his daughter until after her death. That was when he and Rachel’s stepmother discovered her numerous diaries, journals and school essays. Rachel was an accomplished writer of poetry and prose. And her writings reflected her idealistic belief that all people have the seed of greatness within them. One line from an essay written shortly before her death became the catchphrase of the organization that bears her name: “I have this theory that if one person will go out of their way to show compassion, a chain reaction will begin.”
From her writings, Scott discovered that Rachel had made it a personal mission to reach out to those marginalized at her school, and that she had identified three categories of students requiring support: those with special needs, those new to the school, and those who were picked on or put down. After her death, Scott learned from a special needs student at Rachel’s school that Rachel had come to his defense, facing down the male bullies twice her size who had been beating him.
Rachel was not the only poet in the Scott family. The son of a Louisiana pastor, Darrell Scott is another accomplished poet who uses his affecting poetry to change hearts. The program features heartrending poetry from both Scotts, as well as many of Rachel’s journal and diary entries. Likened to Anne Frank, a portion of the program is devoted to exploring the parallels between these two young women in both their writings and their lives.
It would be inaccurate to characterize Rachel’s Challenge as an anti-bullying program only. It’s a prescription for culture change. More than that, it’s a paradigm for realizing maximum human potential. A step-by-step workshop for recognizing the greatness in others and seeing it reflected back in their eyes, there is nothing revolutionary in the philosophy of this organization. In fact, it embodies the precepts of most of the world’s major religions. However, it does do well what any organization that aspires to culture change must do: clearly define the failings of the current culture, outline the steps necessary for achieving positive change and pack an emotional wallop for incentive to change.
Although it can be difficult to quantify the success of an organization like Rachel’s Challenge, there is no arguing with the more than 500 unsolicited testimonials from potential suicide victims that the organization has received in the past three years alone. Evidence of lives changed for the better arrives daily at Rachel’s Challenge headquarters in the form of thank you letters. That, says Darrell Scott, is what keeps him and this organization motivated.
Contrary to public opinion, Rachel’s Challenge is not limited to preventing bullying, violence and suicide in schools only. It is intended to serve the entire population, worldwide, and is available in Wayne County in several free public presentations, as listed below.
[For more information about Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org . See also related My View on page 7.]