High school students across the country are mobilizing in an effort to combat the seemingly never-ending rash of violence in their schools. Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School senior Garrett Forrest has joined the crusade.
The 17-year-old is the new national director of events and philanthropy for Students on Safety, a Texasbased student-run and -led not-for-profit organization formed in February that has more than 70 chapters across the country.
Forrest said about 300 students applied for the events and philanthropy job through an online process that included video interviews of finalists by Toni Dower, Students on Safety's founder and director and a sophomore at McMillen High School in Murphy, Texas.
He was hired July 5.
"After I did some research and learned Students on Safety advocates for a cause I believe in, I decided to apply for the job," Forrest said.
Forrest said Students on Safety's objectives are twofold.
One is to educate students about how to identify violence threats in their school and what they can do to prevent that violence.
The second is to create bipartisan, commonsense measures to stop violence in schools.
Forrest's first task in his new job is to get the word out nationally about Students on Safety and raise funds so local chapters can hold events. Students in the organization will be going door to door in their communities with a brochure and a script written by Forrest. The campaign will be launched this week in St. Louis.
Forrest said he prefers the door-to-door approach over a telephone blitz, and he speaks from personal experience.
"I made calls for the Daniel Biss campaign for governor last year. I'd say 90% of the people I called didn't answer the phone, and of the 10% who did answer, 1% actually listened to my spiel," he said.
Forrest will speak with Students on Safety's Midwest region representatives next month and work on forming a local chapter of the organization. Dower founded her local chapter of Students on Safety in April 2018, two months after the shootings at Parkland High School in Florida.
Students on Safety went national early this year, and national officers were sought through an Instagram campaign.
It's been a busy summer for Forrest, who went to San Antonio for the Future Business Leaders of America's national conference and to Washington, D.C., for the Leadership Initiatives Advanced Law & Trial Internship Summit.
He finished in fourth place in a political science competition in Texas, and in Washington, he was among high school students who helped a D.C. law firm create a real-life case for a client who was a whistleblower in a federal agency and has allegedly been the victim of retaliation.
After school resumes at Dee-Mack, Forrest will run for student body president in a September election. He already is senior class president.
He's an active student at Dee-Mack, one of the driving forces behind fundraisers that have generated $21,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital over the past two school years.
Forrest is the son of Mitchell and Rev. Shelly Forrest, pastor at Mackinaw United Methodist Church.
He said his activism has been inspired by these words from John Wesley, founder of the Methodist religious movement in the 18th century: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."
With that mantra driving him, "I can't take a back seat," Forrest said. "If there's a situation that needs to be improved, I have to do something."
For more information on Students on Safety, go to studentsonsafety.org.
(Reprinted with permission from the July 28 issue of the Peoria Journal-Star, www.pjstar.com)