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Light of hope shines from dark tragedy

Even when evil is at its darkest, when tragedy's grip is the tightest, some special people find ways to rise above it all and inspire goodness in others.

Albany is experiencing that this week with Rachel's Challenge -- a challenge to our community. A challenge to be better, kinder and more compassionate.

And if you look around the world these days -- uprisings, riots, insecurity -- a little more kindness and understanding would do a great deal of good.

Rachel's Challenge is based on the brief life of a high school student from Colorado, Rachel Scott. When two other students at her school -- Columbine High -- went on a murderous rampage, hers was the first life lost in a nightmare of violence that left the nation shocked. She was 17 when she was killed on April 20, 1999.

And that could have been all anyone knew of Rachel, by all accounts a wonderfully kind young lady with aspirations to make an impact on the world. Her family could have mourned her senseless death in private, grown bitter over the terrible loss.

Instead, the Scotts have challenged America to live up to the standards that this teenager set in her all-too-brief life, standards that, if we only approached them, would make any community stronger.

After Darrell Scott, Rachel's father, met with community leaders last month on the purpose of the challenge, his two sons, Craig and Mike, are in Albany this week meeting with students and the community, talking about ways to heal and improve our community so that another tragedy like the Columbine shootings never happens.

Much of the philosophy of the program is based on Rachel's view of life, an optimistic one full of faith that was filled with kindness and compassion for others. Much of it is gleaned from her diary and her writings.

"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," was one observation Rachel made.

Her family now travels the country taking that message to millions of people, both young and old. It is a message that aims to prevent bullying and violence, two anti-social behaviors that can have disastrous, deadly results in any community.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and the public and private schools in Dougherty County have done the community a service by bringing this program to our area. If the message reaches one impressionable youth and convinces him or her to turn away from measuring success by what is taken from others, their mission in Albany has been a success. If it makes a difference in the behavior of dozens, hundreds, even thousands, there's no limit as to how much our community could improve.

Rachel Scott walked this Earth with us a mere 17 years. Her impact on our lives could last for generations -- if we let it.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board