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Isaiah Shoels was days away from his high school graduation at Columbine High school on April 20, 1999 in Columbine, Colorado before he became one of the 13 victims of Columbine High School student’s Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

The carnage at Columbine undoubtedly changed America and began the conversation about gun control and access to mental health for students. 

That day, the attackers wounded 21 additional students.

His parents chose to bury him in his graduation gown and didn’t attend his high school graduation like some of the other parents did because they said it was too painful for them. 

Isaiah displayed his high school diploma in his coffin.

Remembering Isaiah Shoels, the black Columbine victim
Friends and family pass by Columbine High School student Isaiah Shoels’ open casket before his funeral in Denver, Thursday, April 29, 1999. Shoels was killed in the shooting spree at Columbine High School (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)

Isaiah Shoels Overcomes Adversity

Shoels was once a cornerback on the football team. He left the team his senior year due to racial intimidation from teammates. Despite discrimination, the exceptional young man continued making people around him smile. 

“He wouldn’t complain. He’d take that negative energy and make it into something constructive. They took the wrong kid. He could have been one of their best friends they could have had.” Isaiah’s father said. 

Betty Shoels, Isaiah’s aunt, said that “her 18-year-old nephew was a fun-loving athlete who was always smiling, despite feeling out of place as one of the school’s few African-American students.”

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Shoels a Champion for Student Advocacy and Anti-Bullying

Mr. Shoels remembered a time when his son reported a bullying incident to school officials, in which his friend Michelle, a Black student, was being harassed by several white female students. Isaiah told his father that one of the white female students called his friend the n-word. Isaiah reported it, and the school officials did nothing to rectify the situation. 

Bullying is part of the American school experience, and parents described the bullying culture at Columbine that year as “rampant”. 

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the gunman, had been bullied for several years prior to the massacre. Many speculate that bullying is what led to their horrific actions at Columbine High School, actions that would change a nation. 

Isaiah and his friend Michelle were also the targets of high school bullying. They, however, took a different approach — by reporting to school officials. 

A Columbine survivor, Nathan Vanderau, said that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were picked on constantly, stating that a “cup of fecal matter was thrown at them,” and male students regularly called them “queers and faggots.”

Remembering Isaiah Shoels, the black Columbine victim
Cassanda Sadusky, survivor of the attack, looks at a line of crosses commemorating those killed in the Columbine High School shooting. 

Chad Laughlin, another survivor said that, “a lot of the tension in the school came from the class above us…There were people fearful of walking by a table where you knew you didn’t belong, stuff like that. Certain groups certainly got preferential treatment across the board.”

Isaiah’s Last Battle

The last words that Isaiah Sholes heard were racial taunts and slurs from Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, stamping the vicious cycle of bullying. 

Liz Lancaster, a student who was in the library on the day of the massacre, lost to friends in the Columbine school shooting. Lancaster said that the path to healing is forgives.

“Early on, I decided to forgive the shooters. That was an important step for me and it really has brought me peace. The world is troubled. It can be a very scary place, but I constantly try to teach my children to look for the good, to be kind to everyone and to be happy with who they are,” she writes in a recent blog on Education Post

“My experience that day taught me to be less judgemental,” she explained. “I try to keep my heart open to everybody, to have compassion to all, no matter what they look like or their situation,” lessons that we all could use. 

Lancaster’s advice to current students: “Don’t get caught up in the frivolous things. Be a real friend. Listen and love.” 

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Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times and a descendant of two families that survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Although his publication’s store and newsroom...