'4 Safe Schools’

Stop the Violence/Back to School Rally addresses bullying


Demarion Grant, 3, smiles after receiving $500 from the Gainesville Police Department in a random drawing.

Brad McClenny/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 3:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 3:25 p.m.

Using kindness and compassion as the best tools to prevent bullying and violence was the message delivered at the 14th annual Stop the Violence/Back to School Rally, a community event that awarded the first 1,500 children there with backpacks filled with school supplies.

And the winner of the $500 in cash provided by the Gainesville Police Department was 3-year-old Demarion Grant. When asked what he was going to do with his winnings, Demarion replied: "Put it in my pocket."

Immunizations and tons of back-to-school information also were available, along with music and performances by local and regional artists. The theme was "Step Up 4 Safe Schools."

The nearly 4,500 parents, children and teens attending the rally held Saturday at the Santa Fe College gym were treated to tons of advice at the high-energy event that featured a keynote address by Dave Gamache of Rachel's Challenge, a non-profit organization established by the father of Rachel Scott, who was the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

Rachel's Challenge, which is based on the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel, offers student empowering programs and strategies to combat bullying and feelings of isolation and despair.

The event, which was hosted by People Against Violence Enterprises, or PAVE, in partnership with Alachua County Public Schools, provided families and students with tips to fight bullying and keep their schools safe.

The first 1,500 children received backpacks full of school supplies, provided by Meridian Behavioral Healthcare Inc.. a primary sponsor of the rally.

In his greetings, Bill Cervone, state attorney of the 8th Judicial Circuit, asked the kids to pledge not to fight and to stay away from guns.

During the rally, attendees viewed a video tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.

"Keep the families of the victims in your prayers and keep our community in your prayers," said the Rev. Karl "The Rev" Anderson, senior co-pastor of Upper Room Ministries of Greater Gainesville.

"Treat each other nice and be the change you want to see," Anderson said.

Gamache began his keynote address with a video clip that showed pictures of victims of bullying who committed suicide and testimony from kids who were contemplating suicide and were reached by Rachel Scott's message of kindness and compassion. He also showed video clips that included a smiling Rachel Scott interacting with her family and her friends, images of her writings, scenes and sounds of the Columbine High School massacre, and testimony from her brother, a survivor of the Columbine masacre.

"After her death, Gamache said Rachel's parents found six journals with her blueprint for a better world. He said Rachel was influenced by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who died in the Nazi death camps.

Gamache talked about Rachel's life, her ethics and codes of life. "She said compassion and kindness were most important," Gamache said.

Gamache said Rachel's challenge for a better world include: Getting rid of prejudice, looking for the best in every person you meet, dreaming big and writing down your goals, choosing positive influences, fighting prejudice and racism with love and compassion, not letting your environment change your character and speaking with kindness.

"Words can hurt or heal," Gamache said. "The most powerful weapons are words."

The event garnered high praise.

Audrey Williams, program manager for the Alachua County Head Start Program, said the rally provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to get information and resources.

Eileen Roy, a member of the Alachua County School Board, said the Stop the Violence/Back to School Rally with a message to keep bullying and violence out of the school is a good way to start the school year. "It emphasizes that we're working hard in terms of parent involvement," Roy said. "We need parents as partners for their child's success. We want to reach out to parents and be good partners."

Jessica Rowe, mother of three children, including cash prize winner Demarion, said the rally was well-organized and very informative.

"It's all about the kids," Rowe said.

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