Has society as a whole become so numb to death and violence that after a horrific act of disaster such as Columbine, which took place over 5 years ago we are still losing close to 40 students a year across the country to youth violence? Apparently so if these killings aren’t making it any further then their local news areas. But a change is in the making and it starts with the young people who are in schools today, it starts with people like Brandon Wolf, a high school senior at Council Rock. It starts with young men like Billy Hallowell, a twenty year old journalism major at Mount Saint Vincent’s college in New York, and Richard Hoover, a twenty three old Columbine survivor who holds public speaking events all over the country. This change that must take place starts with youth leadership as well as events such as Peace week which has just taken place here in Bucks County.
On May 27th Brandon, Billy, and Richard held a public speaking event at the Bucks County Community College, as one of seven events held during Peace week in Bucks County. At this event Richard Hoover took the time to describe his experience with youth violence at Columbine high school. “I remember contemplating on weather or not to leave the gym area were I was when I heard what appeared to be fire crackers” said Hoover. The shooting took place on April 20th 1999 and for most Columbine students prank was the first thing that came to mind. “Every year the seniors would perform a prank of some kind toward the end of their senior year, so I thought about staying inside the school to avoid being part of their joke.” Explained Hoover who would later use this thought to exemplify just how unexpected this tragedy was. “It wasn’t until I got outside the building and saw the presence of the police chief that everything started clicking” said Hoover who described being overwhelmed by parents and peers in search of still unaccounted for loved ones. The police had evacuated everyone to a nearby library down the street and it was there that Richard was reunited with his mother who had feared the worst. “I think that’s when things really set in for me, when my mom tackled me to the ground with tears and sighs of relief; because I had gone to school and made it out alive.” Repeats Richard who is trying to really enforce just how crazy it sounds, going to school and possibly not returning alive.
For Billy Hallowell this idea sounded crazy as well but for a level headed 16 year old this was his reality, the world we live in. This was not a movie it was CNN, these were not actors simulating death, these were young boys and girls being murdered for going to school. As Billy came to terms with this he decided he would not just follow in suit and ignore what was going on in the world around him, he would instead become a leader in fighting for peace to encourage a change in the world he lived in.
When I asked Billy what I could do to help in the effort toward peace he replied “what can’t you do. You are a leader and leaders guide people. There is nothing I love more than to see young people leading other young people toward more peaceful solutions.” Billy is leading thousands of young people on a web site that he designed called www.teenwebonline.com and it was here that he first became in contact with Richard Hoover. After exchanging thoughts via the Internet they decided to meet one another to further expand on their ideas. As a result of their newfound friendship they have been performing at public speaking events across the country and now have popped on the radar screen of young high school activist Brandon Wolf.
Brandon Wolf is the founder of an organization called S.A.V.E. “R” US (Students Against Violence Everywhere “R” Us) and is an intelligent well read young man. It was his persistence and relentless efforts that made Peace week in Bucks County a reality of his instead of just a vision of his. Brandon, unlike Richard was not a victim of violence, however he feels that by spreading the word of peace and educating young people, he will ensure future students a better chance at saying the same thing. All three of these young men come from different places with different experiences yet all in pursuit of one common goal, to lead people toward a better and more peaceful tomorrow.
I had the chance to ask Brandon how you spread the word of peace in a world that features violence in both the entertainment world and the reality of our news programs. “You bombard the media with more positive news to replace the negative news” he said. “You create positive news through functions like Peace week and programs www.teenwebonline.com and S.A.V.E. “R”US.” During his speech he quoted writer Scott Keal saying “You don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan.” Brandon would later say “I plan to succeed.” However all of these young men feel that in order to succeed it will take young people to lead the way for the future. Brandon reiterated that the greatest tool to stopping violence that we have is the word of mouth one person spreading peace to another.
Michael McKenzie, a 24 year old Penn State graduate was on the Bucks County campus after the event had taken place, and in the spirit of the moment I decided to enlighten him with some of the information that Brandon, Billy and Richard had just discussed. I first reminded Michael of the Columbine shooting that killed 13 students just over 5 years ago and then I informed him that just last year nearly 40 students were killed in school violence across America. He replied “Forty… That’s all? That’s not that bad...Is it?” To which I felt compelled to remind him 40 students is very bad. In fact 4 students is bad; I don’t see why one student should go to school and have to worry about weather or not he or she will be coming home alive. I don’t blame Michael for his response to our conversation but I know that had I not replied I would have blamed myself.