It was nothing short of a small miracle that Jaci Velasquez was cast in the powerful new PureFlix film I’m Not Ashamed, the true story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine shooting in 1999. God provided an opening in the busy schedule of this Dove Award-winner and mother of two to play the role of Mrs. Diaz, Rachel’s drama teacher and confidant.
Rachel was a 17-year-old student who was killed for her faith at Columbine High School. Rachel’s assailants and fellow students, Eric Davis and Dylan Klebold, created a “hit list” that included peers and staff they intended to kill. Rachel was the only person from the list who actually passed away that horrific day.
Her tragic death made way for hope as Rachel’s story has been shared through books and the national anti-bullying program, Rachel’s Challenge, an effective campaign that reaches more than 1,200 schools and businesses every year. Now her story of courage and the message of Christ is being told on the big screen.
Jaci is a talented Christian singer, well known for her songs “On My Knees” and “God So Loved”, and in 2013, Jaci released her first Spanish lullaby album. Her movie career began in the 2002 film Chasing Papi and went on to include six films to be released between 2016 and 2017.
Sonoma Christian Home was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Jaci Velasquez and hear about her important role in this movie. SCH Editor At Large Melanie Pickett reports.
SCH: Do you remember where you were when the Columbine tragedy occurred?
JV: I was in Seattle, Washington and it was a time when the internet was not really available. We had dial-up. I remember I didn’t hear that until later in the day and I remember just thinking to myself that it didn’t seem like it was real. It was like somebody was making something up, you know what I mean? You’re just pulling my leg, that didn’t happen.
It wasn’t like today. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, things like that weren’t happening. Now it feels like it’s three times a week that tragedies are occurring. I was in Seattle when I heard. I was 19 years old, and all I could think to myself was that could have been me. That could have been anybody at the high school age. Just the whole idea that it was their friends, their peers, who did this, was just dumbfounding to me.
SCH: You have small children now. What is their understanding of the Columbine tragedy?
JV: I have two little boys. I have a 7-year-old and an 8-year-old. They’re awesome. They’re hilarious. They make every day the best day ever. When I drove up to take my oldest son to kindergarten, I was very surprised there was a police officer there. They explained it to us this way: we have a police officer on the premises because of the things that historically have happened, possibly at schools, so this is for the kids’ protection. The catalyst for all this happening was the Columbine shooting. I find it amazing that people are taking the extra effort, but then I also find it sad that we have to take the extra effort.
Let me tell you exactly how it [explaining Columbine] went down. I took them to the red carpet event. I took them as my dates. They walked the red carpet and they were so cute. I said, “You guys are fancy tonight, real fancy.” At the red carpet event, they had Rachel Scott’s actual vehicle there in front of the red carpet, and they were having all of us put flowers down. As they were having us put flowers down, I tried to explain it to the boys. And I tried to explain it in a way that they wouldn’t be scared to go to school so I didn’t tell them that part of it.
I told them, “Boys, these flowers are for a girl who lost her life because she was standing up for her faith in Jesus.” I tried to make it small for their ages. I said, “She loved Jesus and somebody hurt her. Sometimes as Christians, other people don’t believe what we believe and they do things that they shouldn’t do, and that’s what happened to her. Somebody did something to her that they shouldn’t have done.” My youngest son tells me, “That girl Rachel died because of Jesus?” I said yes and he said, “So she’s in Heaven now?” and I said, “Yes!” His reply was, “I’ll bet she’s having lots of fun now.” I said, “Yes, she is. She’s having lots of fun in Heaven.”
To me, the most important thing was getting across the idea that sometimes things happen in this world because we believe in something. When we got in the car, my oldest son was very touched by the story so he started crying. I said, “You guys, think about it. If somebody were to hurt you because you love Jesus, would you stop loving Jesus or stop believing in Him? I wouldn’t, because I believe in Jesus. What about you, Soren?”
“I believe in Jesus!”
“What about you, Zealand?”
“I believe in Jesus!”
I said, “There you go. No matter what, we believe in Jesus.”
It was a very interesting evening. You know you’re going to have those talks, but you never know what the catalyst is going to be for those salvation talks with your children. It was awesome. The film is so powerful and I think that what makes me really happy and really impressed with this film was the courage Rachel’s mom has, who’s still alive. If I lost my child, I’m sure logically I would say that I wouldn’t be mad at God. But I probably would be a little bit. It’s my kid.
For her to have the courage to tell the story of her daughter for the world to see, and for her to be able to stand up and say, “I’m not ashamed of Jesus and I’m proud of my daughter because she wasn’t ashamed of Jesus.” It didn’t matter to her even if it cost her her life.
SCH: Can you describe a little bit about your character, Mrs. Diaz?
JV: I’m Mrs. Diaz, Rachel Scott’s drama teacher, and I am the last teacher she talks to. I’m kind of like her support system, if you will, the person who can see the creativity in her and wants to nurture that, and finds it beautiful. She is the last person she talks to and tells about the 13 tears, and the fact that she wants to change the world. As the teacher, I’m the last person she talks to about it.
SCH: We see in the movie, she was not accepted for her faith in school. Even by her closest friends, she was bullied. What do you think the movie’s message about bullying is?
JV: If you look at the story, even the outcasts who committed the crime were bullied by the more popular kids. The outcasts who believed in their faith were bullied because of what they believed in. I think the main story in that is, we have to stop bullying. We have to accept people for who they are and love them no matter what, because that is what we are called to do, especially as believers. Especially.
SCH: Did you see anything happening during the making of this film that you could say was only by God’s hand?
JV: I will say my schedule allowing me to be involved in it was a miracle! It was a pretty intense shoot and I had very little amount of days. Just seeing people’s reactions to the film and their questioning and this planting the seeds to ask the questions, that to me is a miracle. It’s happening a lot. Even my kids, that’s a miracle, to be able to present the Gospel in that way to not be ashamed of Jesus, even if it means someone hurting you. You just stand up for Jesus and not be ashamed.
SCH: In what way do you feel the film impacted or strengthened your faith?
JV: It strengthened my faith because if this little girl, this teenage girl in high school, could be that strong and that courageous in her faith and what she believed, the other things didn’t matter. She believed, no matter what. If she could do that and lose everything, what’s stopping me? Where am I failing as a Christian to not just shine the light of Jesus on everyone I’m meeting and love them with the light of Jesus. What I can do differently? Where can I be a Rachel Scott?
SCH: What do you hope the audience will take away from this film?
JV: My hope is they will take away hope, that they will take away the idea of bullying when it comes to kids, middle school, high school. I pray that they will take away just to not be scared to shine for Jesus in every situation, even when you think nobody is watching.