After working through the loss of her 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Scarlett Lewis wanted to use some of her son’s last words toward something good.
He wrote on the family’s refrigerator chalkboard: “nurturing,” “healing” and “love.”
It was those words that inspired Lewis to start a nonprofit, the Choose Love Movement, which is dedicated to teaching people of all ages social and emotional skills and tools to work toward emotional wellness.
Lewis is partnering with the Schools for Brian Health program to share her message and teach Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy students the age-appropriate social and emotional skills and tools. At 6:30 p.m. April 10, she also will share her story with a free presentation that is open to the public at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy.
Stephanie Peabody, the founder and executive director of the Brain Health Initiative, said the community event will be helpful for people of all ages.
“As with all of the protective factors of brain health, it’s never too early and it’s never too late,” Peabody said. “We want to help, as early as possible, parents and caregivers to understand the implications of a lack of emotional well-being on our physical health, cognitive health and performance, emotional health and performance, our longevity, on our relationships, academic outcomes, career performance and family.”
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Lewis started doing research and found the pathway to violence usually starts with a grievance and builds up to an attack. She noticed people were focusing on the attack rather than the grievances that caused the attacks.
“Kids do not have the skills and tools to manage the hurt and pain of that grievance so it escalates,” Lewis said. “We can learn essential life skills to facilitate connections and relationships. We can self regulate, manage our emotions, make responsible decisions, and there’s an important neuroscience component that goes along with pausing and thoughtfully responding by choosing love.”
From the presentation, Lewis and Peabody hope people better understand the importance of building self-confidence, how to see from others’ perspectives the pain the person might be feeling, and how to regulate emotions.
“It is a way of thinking, feeling and believing, and you have choices,” Peabody said. “Depending on what you choose, you are wiring your brain to view the world, integrate information and respond to the world. You have a choice to do that in a healthy and constructive way or a destructive way.”
Lewis has created a formula to help people choose love. She said if people have courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion, they will be able to choose love.
She said families and community members will go through exercises to strengthen their courage so they can face challenges in their lives and do the right thing.
Those exercises will help people to talk about gratitude and a shift in mindset to focus on the positive as well as how forgiveness can lead to healthy relationships and help to remove pain to begin the healing process. Lewis will share her thoughts on how compassion can strengthen and energize people. She said showing compassion toward others can be healing for everyone involved.
“What I tell everyone is this is about feeling good,” Lewis said. “We want to feel good, we want to mitigate pain in our lives. That’s just a thing we’re designed to do."
"If we have some skills and tools — and, by the way, we’re not born with them, but we’ve been taught (them) and can practice (them) — we’re going to feel good through healthy relationships. We are then able to self regulate, manage our emotions and make responsible decisions. I truly believe that if given the choice, most people would choose love and peace.”
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.