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Students hold day of unity, courage

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Day Without Hate mobilizes young people worldwide in effort to end school violence

By Ramsey Scott

Across Jefferson County and the world, hundreds of thousands of kids made white a symbol of courage last week. 

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Students throughout the Jeffco school district, the state and as far away as Europe wore white T-shirts April 25 to recognize a Day Without Hate. The event began in 2007 at Standley Lake High School in Westminster after shootings on the Virginia Tech campus left 32 people dead. 

In 2007, students and faculty at Standley Lake were looking for a positive way to respond to another school shooting, said teacher Ben Reed, who helped create a Day Without Hate. He spoke at Dakota Ridge High School on April 25 as part of the school’s assembly for the event.

“We as adults don’t understand how scary high school is and how these shootings affect the students,” Reed said. “If we can’t keep our kids safe at school, we have failed as a society.”

A Day Without Hate spreads the message that love is more powerful than violence. Students pledge to spend the day treating one another with respect, and they are asked what they will do to help stop violence, Reed said. 

“To me, it’s a day where violence isn’t tolerated,” said Dakota Ridge senior Jimmy DiGiovanni, 17. “The thought of violence in schools scares me. What makes our school any different than Columbine High School?”

Reed said the event has become successful and widespread because students are the ones truly affected by violence in schools. 

“It’s embarrassing that when Columbine or Arapahoe occurs, we as adults say, ‘Well, it’s unavoidable,’ ” Reed said. “Adults only talk about doing something to stop the violence. The students believe they can make a difference and stop the violence. This truly is a grassroots movement.” 

Dakota Ridge junior Lexi Hoagland, 17, helped organize her school’s Day Without Hate assembly this year. Every school shooting, whether at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., or at Columbine High, affects students everywhere, Hoagland said. 

“It breaks my heart when I think about Claire (Davis, the victim in last year’s Arapahoe High shooting). I can’t imagine our school going through something like that,” Hoagland said. “We need to put forth the message (of love) in our daily life. If we do that, it will make our community and our world a better place.” 

Reed has received pictures from children wearing white for the Day Without Hate from as far away as Germany and Mexico. It’s awe-inspiring to see how the event has grown, Reed said. 

“This has really struck a chord with kids,” Reed said. “These kids are saying, ‘If the adults will not work to make this better, then we will.’ ”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier.com for updates.