Gadsden hosts Rachel's Challenge anti-bullying event

Students, teachers, parents, and civic leaders from across Etowah County came together Wednesday to{}combat bullying.

Speakers encouraged them to fight bullying with kindness.{} Nearly 1,000 people packed Convention Hall for the anti-bullying event in coordination with Rachel's Challenge.

Rachel Scott was the first person killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.{} Six weeks before her murder, she wrote an essay about compassion and acceptance.{} Rachel's Challenge shares her Code of Ethics across the country.{} Nearly 20-million people have attended Rachel's Challenge programs over the past decade.

Wednesday's keynote speaker was Jim Kennedy, a teacher from Rhode Island.{} He said a Rachel's Challenge presentation at his school had such an impact on him that he wanted to spread the message himself.

"It's amazing to watch [students] listen to her story, her message, and change--it sounds cliche--but almost in front of your eyes.{} [They] walk out of here looking at the world a little bit differently, and that difference is the kindness and compassion that they feel inside of them from Rachel's story.

Gadsden hosted the program in the evening so children and adults could come together from Gadsden City Schools, Attalla City Schools, and Etowah County Schools together.{} Gadsden superintendent Ed Miller said the bullying problem extends beyond the school day, and everyone must be involved in stopping it.

"The responsibility of what our kids are doing and what we do in relationship to bullying actually goes a lot further than just that 6 or 8 hours.{} It's the whole community's responsibility," Miller said.

District attorney Jimmie Harp told the crowd he still remembers the names of people who bullied him as a child.{} He said he did not let him stop him, and that many of the bullies from those days are now dead or in jail.{} He put some of them there, and said it is important to maintain positive self-esteem.

"If you get up in the morning and like what you see in the morning and are happy with who you are, you're much less likely to be a victim and much much less likely to be an actual bully.{} My message today is to be proud of who you are," Harp said.

He encouraged students and teachers to take time each day to try to positively affect other people.

"We should live every day like it's the last day that we'll have to make a positive impact on who's around us.{} If we do that, we may find that it may not be our last day but we can live every day like it's our best day," Harp said.