Rusti Lang, a senior at Santana High School in Santee, California, was like many other students involved in the line of fire when another student opened fire from a bathroom, killing two and wounding 13 others on March 5, 2001. The next morning, Rusti met with community leaders to propose a student-led rally of hope for Santana students as well as all Grossmont High School District students. Rusti felt that students needed a time to meet where they could grieve and comfort one another as well as send a positive message about themselves to the community.
When Rusti had secured a location and date, she contacted fellow students to assist with planning and implementation of the rally. Rusti contacted students from the Denver area who had been involved in events after the Columbine shootings and invited their participation in the rally.
Rusti organized student prayer time at the flagpole on the day students returned to the Santana campus. More than 200 students attended this prayer service, in addition to community leaders and school staff. Rusti also attended community meetings in the following days to promote the rally of hope with the goal of showing that students at Santana could find hope and did not need to be held captive by fear. Internationally known musicians offered their services at the rally at no cost; the 1,200-seat auditorium was offered also at no cost. Rusti appeared on NBC 7/39 for a Townhall meeting to advertise the rally, was interviewed on local radio and in print media, all of which provided promotion countywide at no cost. In short, the event was held debt free with donations from the community.
Originally the rally was to be held in an auditorium in the city of Santee, but when the family of a student who died asked to have the funeral there Rusti and her friends’ responded by expressing that the student’s family was more important than whether or not the rally took place. Due to the students’ response to the family’s need, in less than three hours Rusti was contacted with news that another auditorium was being offered at no cost. The rally was held in the sister city of El Cajon.
Approximately 800 people attended the Rally of Hope, including groups of students, parents with their teens, teachers, youth workers, pastors and local politicians, who came together to grieve, find hope and look to the future.
The following week Rusti contacted local merchants for water donations to the campus Christian Club “Fresh Jive.” The Santana Peace Council, a group in which Rusti is an active member, sponsored Peace Week and Fresh Jive gave away the bottles of water to students during lunch as a random act of kindness. Rusti has since had the opportunity to speak at schools, community meetings, churches and camps in Southern California, Oregon, Washington and Romania regarding her experiences, encouraging students to work for a violence-free school and community. Her involvement has been on a strictly volunteer basis.
She is currently working on a performing arts outreach from Santana students to students of New York City, in the wake of the Sept. 11th attack.