10 Years On: Sandy Hook Mom Inspired by Her Son's Courage
with Scarlett Lewis of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement
Ten years ago, 6-year-old Jesse Lewis was among the 20 students and six teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Jesse’s mother, Scarlett Lewis, is the Founder and Chief Movement Officer of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. She joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss Jesse’s final acts that inspired her to create a program that teaches people to “choose love” and manage their response to any situation.
December 05, 2022
Anderson: In mid-December of 2012, 20 first graders, along with six adults, were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It sent shockwaves across America. In the aftermath, one mom decided to be part of the solution to heal societal issues that caused this tragedy. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Jesse Lewis was just six years old when his life was cut short. In his final moments, he helped to save nine of his friends. Jesse in that final act of love inspired his mother, Scarlett Lewis, to create the Jesse Lewis Choose Love movement. Scarlett, welcome to the program.
Lewis: Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: So your son, Jesse, was clearly a hero. Tell us a little bit more about him.
Lewis: Jesse is amazing. I like to say he was born 11 pounds, so a little bit larger than life. Jesse grew up on a farm, and he loved his family. He also loved soccer, just like lots of boys loving sports, and grew up on the sidelines of his big brother's soccer games. He was just so, so loving life. He was just filled to the brim with joy and love for his family.
Anderson: This larger than life essence really translated into the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, which, of course, you founded. What does the program do?
Lewis: Well, Jesse left a message on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died. He wrote three words nurturing, healing, love. And I knew when seeing that that if the shooter had been able to give and receive nurturing, healing, love, the tragedy would never have happened. I mean, people that love themselves and love others don't want to cause harm. The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Program teaches essential life skills necessary for flourishing. And they really address the root cause of so much of the suffering that we're seeing in our society, including violence and substance abuse and mental illness. The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement offers no cost programing that literally teaches resilience and how to have healthy relationships, how to self-regulate, manage your emotions, make responsible decisions, all things needed to thrive in life.
Anderson: So, what kinds of things would you say that these tools in your toolbox, as you call them, prevent? I mean, how do you know as well that this sort of teaching really makes a difference?
Lewis: There are decades of research behind what we teach in the Choose Love Movement, and our programs are now in over 10,000 schools in every state and 120 countries. And there is just tons of research showing that when kids are able to self-regulate, have healthy relationships, make responsible decisions, learn that we grow through difficulty, and have the courage to face situations and pains they flourish.
Anderson: And I know that you're speaking to us from the governor's mansion in New Hampshire. That's because the governor there appointed a state level program director to really implement all this work that you've started. You mentioned that it's happening in other states, but what else can you tell us about how they are using this curriculum, not only in the U.S., but around the world?
Lewis: You know, it's interesting. Governor Sununu is such a courageous leader. He was the first governor to release a statewide school safety initiative, and he chose Choose Love as the backbone of his statewide school safety initiative. So if you look at the pathway to violence, especially as it pertains to school safety, it usually starts with a grievance and then stair steps up into an attack. And we have been focusing on the attack end, we've been focusing on the problem, in other words, just as we do with substance abuse and mental illness and all sorts of other issues that we continue to see escalate within our society. And really, what Governor Sununu realized and was one of the first to do this, is that equally as important, if not more important, is the grievance end. So, in other words, the culture of the school. So schools that are loving, connected and compassionate have these cultures that can reduce and prevent a grievance from happening, or if one does, give essential life skills to the educators and students that can manage that grievance before it escalates into an attack.
Anderson: And, you know, speaking about grievance, you really could have chosen a very different way to deal with the sorrow, the pain and the anger over the loss of your child, but you didn't. What do you want others to know about how to get through a tragedy in as positive way as possible?
Lewis: You know, it's interesting. For me, it was really a choice. Our personal power as human beings is in our ability to choose, and this is even in the face of tragedy. And I had a 12-year-old son at the time, and I knew that I was modeling for him how to move through tragedy. I knew that I did not want he and I to be additional victims of that school shooting. I wanted us to have a life of joy and connection, and so this is literally what I chose. And really what helped me was learning the skills and tools that we are offering in the Choose Love Movement and at no cost, because I know that this would have prevented my son's murder and it can reduce and prevent so much suffering.
Anderson: And, Scarlett, I know people are going to want to know more about the organization. What's your website? Where should they go?
Lewis: We have solutions for schools, homes and communities. It's all no cost, So please visit chooselovemovement.org.
Anderson: Scarlett Lewis, founder and chief movement officer for the Jesse Lewis Choose Life Movement. Thank you so much for being here.
Lewis: Thank you, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to you for watching as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.