In a powerful multimedia narrative of an American tragedy and its redemptive aftermath, hundreds of high school students in Killeen heard a challenge Wednesday to live life better.
In two sessions, Cody Hodges, a former NFL quarterback who is a speaker for Rachel’s Challenge, urged 950 students to follow five guidelines drawn from the life of Rachel Joy Scott, the first of 12 students and one teacher killed in 1999 in the Columbine High School shootings.
Shown on a huge screen in the middle of the Killeen Independent School District Career Center campus, news footage brought to motion that day in April now almost 15 years ago when two students dressed in black used handguns and explosives in a rampage at a high school in Columbine, Colo.
Through video interviews with Rachel’s friends and family and Hodges’ testimony, students learned that the 17-year-old girl left behind a trail of compassion and six journals and other writings that sparked a blueprint for a chain reaction of kindness.
Career Center education teacher Tina Tamplen said two of her students attended a conference session that led her
to attend a Rachel’s Challenge Summit last summer.
She and three other Killeen ISD teachers received a $5,000 Killeen ISD Education Foundation grant in December to bring Rachel’s Challenge to Killeen.
A group of 25 Career Center students received additional training Wednesday to help spawn Friends of Rachel Clubs at the Career Center and the four Killeen ISD high schools.
“The concept is different than a typical anti-bullying effort,” Tamplen said. “It focuses on treating people with respect from the beginning to prevent tragedies from ever happening.”
In one of many powerful images, Hodges showed a picture of the front of Rachel’s journal taken from the backpack she was wearing when she was gunned down. Alongside a bullet hole, which seemed to serve as exclaimation point were the words, “I won’t be labeled as average.”
She wrote specifically of the power of a chain reaction of kindness.
“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,” Scott said.
In 14 years, Rachel’s Challenge has spread her message of kindness to 18 million people, Hodges said.
She was a regular girl, far from perfect, whose life was marked by caring for others, Hodges said, pointing out she was particularly drawn to people with special needs, students new to her school and those typically picked on.
Following the presentations, hundreds of Killeen students wrote their names on banners indicating their commitment to accept Rachel’s challenge.
Several students involved in organizing the event said they were hopeful of sustaining a chain reaction.
“It was really awesome,” said Shoemaker High School junior Kendrick Thomas. “I hope people take in the importance and that it really has an impact— that we see how important it is to be kind.”
“I think the video got to a lot of people,” said Killeen High School senior Alana Lowes. “I hope it carries over to our home campuses, that we can go back and impact thousands of people.”
Cheyenne Walker, a senior who attends all of her classes at the Career Center, agreed the presentation was inspirational, showing the power of choosing kindness and making an effort to encourage others. “It was inspirational how she was nice to everyone,” she said. “I try to live my life like that.”