KOKOMO, Ind. — Nurturing, healing, love.
These three words, scrawled with childish handwriting and spellings, have defined Scarlett Lewis’s life’s work, since the murder of her six-year-old son who wrote them.
Shortly after Jesse Lewis and 19 of his classmates at Sandy Hook Elementary lost their lives in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, Scarlett Lewis found his final message on her kitchen chalkboard.
I knew after seeing those words that if Adam Lanza, who spent a year and a half planning the shooting at Sandy Hook, had been able to give and receive nurturing, healing, love, if he had all these skills to have healthy relationships, the skills and tools for resilience, this tragedy would never have happened. I wanted to get those three words into schools.
Her son’s death and handwritten words compelled her to found the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, to provide free training and curriculum for social and emotional learning to schools, to solve what she calls the root problem behind school violence, and other mental health issues.
Tuesday (October 9), Lewis shared her message with a nearly full auditorium of students, faculty members, area teachers, mental health professionals, and community members at Indiana University Kokomo.
The audience sat in silence during an introductory video, sharing Jesse’s story. Home video and pictures showed him as a newborn 11-pound baby, a rambunctious toddler, and a poignant clip of him running through his yard, chasing a soccer ball, with his mother cheering him from behind the camera.
Lewis talked about her formula for choosing love, which is courage plus gratitude plus forgiveness plus compassion equals choosing love.
She noted that the Sandy Hook Commission, which spent two hours studying the causes of the shooting, released a report that the top three ways to prevent school violence are gun safety, access to mental health counseling, and social and emotional learning.
Social and emotional learning is the number one way to have a safe school,” she said. “We’re building a culture of safety from the inside out.
Teaching students to respond with love is a more proactive solution than “hardening” a school with more metal detectors, armed security, and locked doors.
None of these address the issue of why a student wants to harm himself and others in the first place,” she said. “We’re addressing the causes, rather than the symptoms.
She added that it’s also a proactive solution for other issues, including the opioid crisis, because it works to solve the underlying cause of addiction.
Teaching people to respond in love gives them back their personal power, she said, adding that before she forgave the shooter, it was like she was attached to him by a cord, dragging that weight around with her all the time. Forgiveness doesn’t mean she forgets, or that there shouldn’t be consequences, but it frees the person taking that action.
Beth Barnett, IU Kokomo’s director for counseling and psychological services, thanked Four County Counseling Center for partnering with the campus to bring Lewis to speak. She noted that Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling students were invited to special events associated with the visit, to learn from practicing counselors. Future teachers from the School of Education also attended.
We’re really excited to be on the front line with teachers, providing this before they are in the classrooms. We’ve made this a priority,” said Barnett.
Sierra Colvin, Kayte Miller, Ashley Hunt, and Hannah Moody were among about 100 education students in the audience. Miller found the presentation interesting because the schools she has been in locally teach social and emotional learning.
It was interesting to relate it to what we’re seeing in our classrooms,” she said, while Hunt said she hadn’t realized the impact it could have.
They agreed that as future teachers, they are conscious of their responsibility to keep their students safe — even at their own peril.
It’s something we all kind of agree to when we decide to be educators,” said Colvin. “It’s not something we have to do, but we want to keep them safe. They become family to us. They’re no longer your students, they’re your kids.
For more information, go to jesselewischooselove.org
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.