In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Tech, killed 32 people in one of the deadliest campus shootings in U.S. history.
About 1,500 miles away, Ben Reed, a teacher at Standley Lake High School in Westiminster had seen enough. But little did he know what his search for a positive way to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy would lead to A Day Without Hate, an effort to stop violence in schools that today is being officially designated by the State of Colorado.
"I kind of just threw my lesson plans out the window and started talking," Reed recalls about his response to Virginia Tech. As he and the students talked about the shootings, trying to make sense of why they were happening, an idea was born -- a day where students could transcend the groups and cliques of high school and come together in support of peace and nonviolence.
"We want to show peace and nonviolence and show the world that public schools aren't negative, violent places" Reed says.
From Standley Lake, the movement quickly spread to other high schools, and then to elementary and middle schools. But although Reed does the coordination for a Day Without Hate, students are the real reason the movement has gathered so much momentum.
""It is a student-led grassroots effort," he notes. "And that's the whole idea -- saying we're going to promote peace and nonviolence, and show that there are positive things in schools. And this is the kids saying, we're going to do it our own way."
As Jefferson County high school students continued to celebrate A Day Without Hate, students naturally graduated and moved on, leading to the movement popping up at the next educational level. Today, it has surfaced on college campuses in Colorado and throughout the rest of the country. The University of Denver, Colorado State, the University of Virginia and Duke University have all contacted Reed regarding participation.
CU-Boulder will be hosting its own gathering for the celebratory day thanks to a handful of students from various Jeffco schools. Lora Roberts, a former Chatfield High student, is one of the students responsible for bringing A Day Without Hate to CU. [Disclosure: Roberts is the daughter of Latest Word editor Michael Roberts.] Last year, as a freshman, she teamed up with a group of students to present the idea to the Freshman Council, a subsidiary of the CU Student Government.
"Last year, I was on Freshman Council," Roberts says. "We knew about [A Day Without Hate], and it was something we were all really passionate about, so we brought it up here last year," she says.
She, too, stresses the importance of the movement being student-generated. "I think it's good when students take charge of things on their own. Sometimes when adults bring it to students, it seems like it's something students are supposed to do and don't enjoy it."
The CU events will consist of a gathering in the Norlin Quad where there will be peace pledging, free pizza, and white T-shirts or glow-in-the-dark tank tops for sale -- the proceeds from which will all go toward the Day Without Hate scholarship fund.
Meanwhile, high school students are taking things a step further. From 6 p.m.-8 p.m. tonight at Jeffco Stadium, in Lakewood, a massive rally will be held. Headlining will be hip hop group the Flobots, and cast members of MTV's The Buried Life will also be speaking; there will also be a performance by Denver musician Zach Heckendorff. Admission to the event is free for all Jeffco students and to anyone wearing a Day Without Hate T-shirt. About $4,000 in scholarships will be given away to students working to promote peace.
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And to further show just how far this celebratory day has come, Governor John Hickenlooper has proclaimed Friday, April 26, as a Day Without Hate for the state of Colorado. The Colorado Senate has penned a tribute to the day, and it will be read by Senator Andy Kerr at the rally.
The widespread support for the movement is significant. Reed, however, is not surprised. "This idea has just so struck a chord with students," he says. "As soon as they hear it, they're on board. When you're going to school every day and you're scared...that affects them in a way that adults who didn't grow up in a post-Columbine era just don't understand."
More from our Education archive: "4/20 at CU Boulder: Campus is quiet, estimated $100,000-plus spent to keep it that way."