Geoffrey Land vows he will not make the same mistake twice.
He says he failed to do enough to make a difference in the life of his neighbor, 15-year-old Nick Shomaker, who died of a single gunshot wound last month. "I could have challenged Nick to be a better person," he said. "I should have done, I could have done more."
To underscore his vow, Land asked students at Broad Run High School, Shomaker's alma mater, to take a stand against drugs and violence. And for those who already are caught up in those vices, he challenged them to walk away. "Everything can change. You can make a new life," he said at an assembly Friday. "Every day we get to write another page in the book."
Land said he has recommended a new means of fighting back that has won the support of Broad Run's teachers and administrators. They will place Amnesty Boxes, the color of "blood red," throughout the high school. Students are encouraged to alert the administration by dropping notes in a box if they know of anyone carrying a gun, planning a fist fight, hiding drugs in their lockers or contemplating other offenses.
"If you choose to do nothing, the blood of yourself and your classmates will be on your hands," Land warned. "It's still your choice. Doing nothing would be a choice. Using the Amnesty Box is a way to make a difference."
Similar boxes were used by the military when Land was in the Army. A soldier, whom Land called Pvt. Smith, exchanged empty shells with live ammunition. Two of his peers placed notes in an Amnesty Box, notifying the brass that Pvt. Smith had the live ammo. Another inserted a note saying that the soldier was planning a killing spree. Land said many lives were spared as a result of the box.
He compared the saying, "It's a Bug's Life" to a "Thug's Life," saying both have short lives with little purpose.
LAND CITED the slaying of rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac who persisted with drugs and violence even after becoming famous. "We'll never get to hear that music," he said. "Who wants to live like that? Or better yet, who wants to die like that?"
He shared a rap of his own:
"Papa's been cool since the day of Underroos.
Died too soon because his choices were for fools.
Ain't that right, Boo? True.
Ain't that right, Boo? True."
Looking at the crowded auditorium, he reminded everyone that one student was not present — Nick Shomaker. His mother, Lori, was there.
Land talked about the consequences of not doing homework, running a red light, taking drugs or carrying a gun. Someone might think it's cool to carry a gun, he said. "The cool thing is when you can take the time to care about someone."
There always will be peer pressure. "There reaches a point you have to stand for something," he said. "We can help you make a right choice or help you deal with the consequences. In the end, your choices will define your life."
Land said there are four C's that control the students' destiny: challenge, choice, change and consequences. He had them repeat the words. "Every decision has a challenge in which you have to make a choice that will change your life and determine your consequences."
PRINCIPAL Edgar Markley said a few of Nick's friends asked for an assembly addressing drugs and alcohol. He invited Land after hearing him speak at Nick's funeral.
Allyne Zapalla, substance abuse prevention specialist, told the students, "You can be a part of the problem or part of the solution."
Some of Broad Run's students stopped taking drugs after Nick's death, only to resume over the spring vacation, she said. "Come back and talk to me. I want you to reevaluate that decision."
Devorah Jackson, a special education teacher, invited the students to join an anti-violence steering committee, formed at the request of students.