Last week, a 14-year-old, straight-A student shot a 16-year-old girl and then killed herself in the bathroom of a west Texas high school. Her motives have not yet been made clear but one thing is; violence in our nation’s high schools has become entirely too common.
School violence shot to the forefront of our nation’s attention in 1999 with the shooting at Columbine High School when two students took to the school with handguns, shotguns, fire-bombs, and explosives. While their motives were never made clear, their personal journals stated the desire to rival the Oklahoma City Bombing from four years earlier.
In this April 20, 1999, file photo unidentified young women head to a library near Columbine High School where students and faculty members were evacuated after two gunmen went on a shooting rampage in the school in Littleton, Colorado.
To date, the massacre is reported as the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history and among the top ten school shootings. By the end of the rampage, 12 students, one teacher, and the two shooters had died and 24 more were injured. According to FBI records (as of February), there have been 50 mass murders or attempted mass murders at schools since Columbine, with a death toll of 141 people.
My heart breaks at the pain inflicted by the violence, but my heart also breaks at the pain the offenders must been feeling in order to reach such levels of violence.
I wonder what these teenagers must have been feeling – what drove them to such levels of callousness towards their peers? Did they feel like their lives didn't matter? Is that the message they received from their classmates? If your life doesn’t matter, how can you see past yourself and see that the lives of others matter? We know that the perpetrators at Columbine were bullied, picked on and degraded. This in no way justifies their actions; I simply wonder – could acts of kindness have changed the course of their decisions?
Seventeen years after Columbine, one of the victims’ legacies has reached impressive heights. Rachel Joy Scott, the first student to be shot and killed, was known by her classmates for her strong faith and gentle kindness. I wonder, what can we – teenagers and high school students – do? We may be young, but we are on the frontlines of school violence.
Rachel’s Challenge, a non profit student led intervention program, rose from the ashes of death at Columbine. It has impacted 22 million kids since that tragic day in Colorado, created to address the needs in our high schools to make each kid feel important and valued, and to encourage acts of kindness among peers. Rachel Scott wrote in her journal “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. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
When I was offered a role and asked to sing the theme song for his film "I Am Not Ashamed" I was given the book, "Rachel’s Tears"and as I read it, I found myself so convicted. Her story impacted me greatly, and I loved how real the story was told.
As I began to work on a song, I had a few ideas and some lines, but I couldn't bring it all together. I was given Rachel’s published diary and I found lyrics and poems all throughout its pages. My song, I Am Not Ashamed (same title as the movie), has Rachel’s heart all throughout, some portions are her exact words.
Every time I sing I’m Not Ashamed and think about Rachel’s life, I’m newly impacted and am reminded to be bold in loving those around me…even when they’ve hurt me. As a 16-year-old in high school, I see the bullying, the hate, the things that lead the already powerless, the forgotten, or the anonymous kid to take paths leading to violence. I too, have been ridiculed, bullied, and dissed.
Not for my sexual identity, my skin color, or for how I choose to dress, but for my beliefs in God. But my faith enables me to stand for something I believe in because it’s so real to me. My faith has changed my life; to love those who mistreat me, as Jesus said, and to reach out to the socially unaccepted, and empower the broken.
When I first learned about Rachel’s story and how much of an impact her life has made, it made me realize how short life is. But it’s not important how long we live; but rather what we do with our lives that really matters. God has given us the free gift of an everlasting, abundant love and joy that can overflow into the lives of others if we just fully receive it. Let’s decide to stand up for who we are and what we believe in.
People need to see the Jesus in us and know how loved they are. Everyone wants to feel accepted, important, and loved. Faith in Christ leads to hope and peace in the human heart. We could use so much more of that on our high school campuses today. Love those who hurt you, show compassion to those who need our heavenly father, and don't be ashamed of the gospel of Christ!
We can change this world one person at a time. What will you do with the life God has given you?
I have a couple of suggestions: First I would like to invite you to join us at See You At The Pole 2016; a day for students to come together around the globe at their school’s flagpole to lift their generation up in prayer and intercede on their behalf. This year’s event is Wednesday, September 28 at 7:00am local time wherever you are.
Secondly I would like to encourage you to watch the film "I Am Not Ashamed" at your local theater. It hits theaters October 21. I promise – you will be convicted, inspired and forever changed by Rachel’s story.
Abigail Duhon is a teen actor and singer and appears in the film wrote and sang the title song for the upcoming film I Am Not Ashamed.
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