This week we are featuring the truly remarkable Scarlett Lewis, Chief Movement Officer of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. After losing her son Jesse in the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she formed this non-profit organization whose inspiring mission is to create safer schools through programs that teach young people how to be happier and make decisions out of love—not hate. Specifically for this anxious quarantine time, Scarlett has developed a v-log, podcast, and other resources to help parents navigate a new “normal”. We spoke to Scarlett about her amazing organization, how she’s expanded it during this coronavirus crisis and what drives her. (For more, go to chooselovemovement.org.)
Why did you decide to start Choose Love?
My first grade son, Jesse, wrote a message on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he was killed in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He wrote, ‘Norturing Helinn Love’ (Nurturing Healing Love). I knew if the former student who had perpetrated the crime had been able to give, and receive love, that the tragedy would never have happened. I dedicated my life to spreading this message along with social and emotional learning to schools, home, communities and workplaces around the world every day since.
What does “Choose Love” mean?
“Choose Love” means thoughtfully responding to what happens in life with love, kindness, caring, compassion, civility, etc. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can take our personal power back and choose how we thoughtfully respond. When we ‘choose love’ in our response, we get to write the ending to our chapter in life and take control back. When we react with prolonged anger, hatred and revenge, we give our personal power away and become victims. That is the definition of lack of control and doesn’t feel good.
You have expanded your program and it has grown over the last few years. Why do you think people are responding, and why has it translated so well in so many different settings?
We started this organization as a movement. Too many times we rely on others to fix our societal issues but with the epidemics of substance abuse, bullying, mental illness and more we are realizing ‘they’ is us. We must be responsible for our own lives and be part of the solution. The Choose Love Movement is a way for everyone to come together as we are all connected in the want and need to love and be loved, and do something to be part of the solution. We are not born with the skills and tools needed to have healthy relationships, manage our emotions, or make responsible decisions called essential life skills. We must learn them. These are what we use throughout our lives and in every aspect including with family, friends, in the workplace, our communities. These are the skills and tools that enable us to live meaningful, purpose filled, resilient and loving lives.
You are doing some wonderful things to respond to the anxiety so many families are facing with Covid-19. Can you share some of them with us?
We have a Coronavirus tab on our website: chooselovemovement.org where we list free resources for families, educators and students. We are offering free live events on social media as well as daily tips/practices families can do together to thrive in this brave new world. Anyone can sign up for a free Daily Dose of Love featuring inspirational quotes, heartwarming stories, and a call to action.
Why is “Choosing Love” more important than ever right now?
As human beings, we are wired to connect with one another. We must socially distance now and we miss that connection. We are also anxious about our future, so much is unknown. Anxiety is contagious and was an epidemic even before the Coronavirus with 50% of our kids having a diagnosable mental illness by the time they’re 18, the majority of which is anxiety. (Kids Speak Up Report, Child Mind Institute). Seventy percent of those kids will not get professional help and thus suffer alone. The long-term outcomes of untreated anxiety are exactly what we’re experiencing in schools that translate into our society. The issues that continue to escalate haven’t gone away just because kids are out of school. We must continue to provide these to our children at home. Parents, caregivers, grandparents, everyone can benefit from Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)! SEL helps us focus on what we can control, be flexible and resilient, helps us have healthier relationships and manage our emotions.
What do you think Jesse would say about your efforts?
I honor Jesse’s life and message in everything that I do, but I also created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement to help those individuals who are hurting, feeling isolated and angry. Much of the suffering can be reduced and prevented by addressing the cause by teaching social and emotional skills, tools and attitudes.
What advice do you have for moms whose kids are struggling with anxiety?
Anxiety was an at all time high before COVID-19! Now with the pandemic we’re all feeling anxiety. Anxiety is contagious and as parents, our children are watching how we respond. We are modeling, right now, for our children how to handle uncertainty, difficulty and challenges going forward. They are learning more from what we do, than what we say. Keep this in mind to help you rise to the occasion. When we are mindfully aware that we are modeling how to respond in a positive and healthy way, in a way that facilitates growth, it helps strengthen us to do just that!
How can people help?
Social and emotional learning would have saved my son’s life and can reduce and prevent so much of the suffering that leads to the issues we’re experiencing in schools that translate into society. It is vitally important and we need help spreading the word about these no cost resources! My son’s school had an SEL program but they couldn’t afford to train the teachers so it never got out of the box. All of our programming for schools, homes and communities is no cost because this information is so vital to the future of our children, and our own! Making a donation can ensure that our programming continues to be free for all. We also have an e-store with Choose Love merchandise. Also, 100% of the cost of our Workplace programming supports schools, homes and communities, most likely in the business’ own backyard!
Anything else you want people to know?
Jesse’s message is the foundation of a powerful formula that can lead us to thoughtfully respond with love in any situation, circumstance and interaction we will ever face, including COVID-19. It starts with Courage. Jesse saved 9 of his classmates before losing his own life. He is on the short list for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We all have the courage Jesse showed but courage is like a muscle and we need to practice it! Practicing gratitude helps us shift our focus away from anxious thoughts. Forgiveness gives us our personal power back and Compassion-in-Action is when we step outside of ourselves to help others. When we practice Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion-in- Action, we are Choosing Love and helping create a safer, more peaceful and loving world for ourselves and for others.