Foster Friess: We can stop school shootings. I’ll match your donations up to $2.5 million.
Below is my op-ed that appeared in the Friday, March 9th USA Today front page. I highlight various solutions to help avert the next school shooting. I hope you’ll read the op-ed below and watch the 9-minute video about Rachel’s Challenge.
What is Rachel’s Challenge? from Rachel’s Challenge on Vimeo.
If we are going to help avoid new generations of school violence like that unleashed in Parkland, Fla., last month, changing laws isn’t enough. We have to address the core of the problem: the shooter himself.
Who was Nikolas Cruz? Like many other mass shooters, fatherless or a victim of divorce, bullied, suicidal, disconnected from his peers and seemingly in desperate need of a mentor. Who affirmed him? Who responded to his cries of loneliness and isolation? Of his sense of rejection? Who helped build his self-esteem? Who confronted his anger?
Why not include in our possible solutions expansion of mentoring programs that target young males like these?
Professional golfer Tom Lehman just raised $700,000 for his Elevate Phoenix program, which targets potential high school dropouts by pairing high school juniors and seniors who have behavioral challenges with sixth- and seventh-graders. Suddenly, the troublemakers are role models. It impacts them. Someone looks up to them and affirms them.
At the same time, adult counselors provide their cellphone numbers to their mentees with the promise to answer a call any time of day or night. It works. The difference of a kid who makes it and one who doesn’t is often simply one caring adult.
That’s the right approach. When a team of statisticians from the FiveThirtyEight website analyzed all 33,000 deaths caused by guns each year in the United States, they came away “frustrated” in their attempts to support new gun laws. They concluded that “broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns” through bans would not solve the problem; instead, like Lehman, they concluded that one individualized intervention was the best solution.
One of the FiveThirtyEight researchers wrote in The Washington Post, “Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help. Women endangered by specific men need to be prioritized by police, who can enforce restraining orders prohibiting these men from buying and owning guns. Younger men at risk of violence need to be identified before they take a life or lose theirs and to be connected to mentors who can help them de-escalate conflicts.”
That individualized approach is familiar to the parents of Columbine, Colo. Every reader of this article should promote Rachel’s Challenge presentations in their high school. Since Darrell Scott, the father of the first student killed in the Columbine shooting, launched the effort in 1999, the presentation has visited more than 20,000 schools.
Through the concept that one act of kindness can create a chain reaction, students are challenged to replace bullying and violence with forgiveness and respect. Rachel’s Challenge reports that its efforts prevent over 100 suicides each year and have helped avert seven school shootings, three by young men who turned themselves in confessing to their plans and possession of weapons. The other four were reported by students.
The parents of the children of Newtown, Conn., started Sandy Hook Promise, which has trained over 2 million students, parents and teachers with programs like “Start with Hello,” which teaches students how to be more socially inclusive and connected to one another.
School systems across America use their app, “Say Something,” to allow students to anonymously report warning signs on social media and get help for those students.
Could a future incident like we just experienced in Florida be averted by mentors taking a few hours each week to guide and mentor young troubled men? A basketball game Friday night. Pizza Wednesday. What about peer training or an app? The ultimate solution has to be changing hearts.
If each church in America could influence at least 2% of its congregation to get engaged in mentoring these fatherless, troubled young men, we might not eliminate all school shootings, but we could avert the one that impacts the kids of your community.
Most troubled young men will never go on to be spree killers who grab national attention. But paying more attention to their suffering and working to put them on a better path still makes sense. Encouraging them to advance their educations, be more productive and diverting them from involvement in less-dramatic, but still costly, crime will pay dividends to communities across the country.
By all means, let’s keep up the debate about how to change laws in the wake of 17 needless deaths in Florida, but let’s do something to help those who are already acting to stop the next Parkland shooting.
I will match up to $2.5 million in any donations you send to the “Return to Civility Fund” at the National Christian Foundation before March 24. These donations will go specifically to programs that improve school safety, develop youth mentoring, and promote a return to civility in our schools.
I hope we can work together to support initiatives similar to Rachel’s Challenge, Sandy Hook Promise, and Tom Lehman’s Elevate Phoenix and to encourage churches to create more mentoring programs.
I hope you’ll join me.
Foster Friess grew his money management firm to $15 billion assets under management before its sale in 2001. He now focuses on a “Return to Civility” in America’s culture.