by Wendy Jewell from The MY HERO Project

"You can't always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you respond, and you can always respond in love." A derivative of a quote by Holocaust Survivor Victor Frankl.

119341Scarlett LewisJesseLewisChooseLove.orgScarlett Lewis was a single mom of two young boys living in rural Connecticut, working full time, supporting her sons with love, fun and all the necessities, while letting school handle the education part. They lived on a farm with horses and their dogs; her son Jesse called their little farm ‘paradise’. “We lived a really, really happy and fulfilled, rich life together.” Then December 14, 2012 happened. A 20-year-old gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary killing her 6-year-old son Jesse, 19 of his first-grade classmates, and 6 teachers and staff. It was one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history.

119342Jesse blowing bubblesJesseLewisChooseLove.orgThe life Scarlett and her boys were leading before this happened sounded bucolic and lovely. I wondered who Scarlett Lewis had become since this unspeakable tragedy. “It completely changed the trajectory of my life. It has gifted me a purpose in life, as I knew following Jesse’s murder that I wanted to be part of the solution. I realized that what happened to Jesse was 100% preventable and that there was a solution, thankfully. I also knew that JT, Jesse's older brother, was going to be watching every move I made, every word that came out of my mouth, every corresponding action. He was also learning how to handle this. Not only this tragedy but every obstacle that would come his way by how I responded to what was happening to us at that time. So, I was very careful about what I said and did. I learned that even though you can't always choose what happens to you, you can ALWAYS choose how you respond and you can always respond in love, regardless of what the situation is.”

119343Jesse Lewis words on his chalkboard at homeJesseLewisChooseLove.orgYears ago, when I interviewed Kathy Eldon, whose 22-year-old son and Reuters photo-journalist Dan Eldon lost his life covering the civil war in Somalia, we talked about her making the decision to “get up off the floor… to live” and to make something worthwhile of what had happened. In honor of Dan, Kathy and her daughter Amy launched Creative Visions, a foundation that supports “creative activists” who use media and the arts for social impact. I asked Scarlett how she was able to “get up off the floor”.

119351Scarlett sharing her program at schoolScarlett LewisScarlett: “It is absolutely a conscious choice. Following the tragedy, I discovered that our perpetrator was a former student of Sandy Hook Elementary School and a member of our community. I realized that someone who could do something so heinous must have been in a tremendous amount of pain himself. The whole movement to Choose Love started at Jesse’s funeral when I got up and spoke. I said, “‘Everybody’s been asking what can we do for you? There is actually something you can do. Start thinking about what you think about, consciously change one angry thought a day into a loving thought. By doing that you'll make yourself feel better, you'll positively impact those around you, and through the ripple effect, you will make this a safer, more peaceful and loving world.’ This whole tragedy started with an angry thought in Adam Lanza's head at some point. And I pictured him as a little boy having an angry thought without the tools of a nurturing environment to deal with that thought. Through scientific research, we know that every thought we have impacts us on a cellular level. That means physically, mentally and emotionally. We also know that it changes the wiring in our brains so here you see, little Adam Lanza, who, by the way, was not born a mass murderer, but a perfect child of God, just like you and I. He was cultivated into what he became, by his environment and by being bullied. This whole tragedy started as an angry thought, and the amazing thing to me is that an angry thought can be changed.” Within days of the funeral, hundreds of attendees began contacting Scarlett saying that that one simple act had profoundly changed their lives.

On his last morning Jesse had spelled out phonetically on the kitchen chalk board “Nurturing Healing Love”. Experts agreed this was not something found in the vernacular of a 6-year-old and told Scarlett that those three words “are in the definition of compassion across all cultures”. Nurturing means loving kindness and gratitude. Healing means forgiveness and Love is compassion in action. Neuroscience dictates that when you have the courage to practice each of those 3 character values, you are choosing love.”  Which brings us to the JESSE LEWIS CHOOSE LOVE FOUNDATION and what Scarlett feels it provides… what she thought was missing in our education system by incorporating what Scarlett calls Social Emotional Learning.  It turns out this method of teaching has been around for decades but is not often used… until now. Jesse’s foundation has made it available, for free, to schools in all 50 states and in forty countries.

The Social Emotional Learning program focuses on four important character values – Courage, Gratitude, Forgiveness and Compassion in Action – which cultivates optimism, resilience and personal responsibility. Included elements are positive psychology, mindfulness, neuroscience, character values and more. As a result, children learn personal responsibility and the understanding that they always have a choice in how they respond. They realize they can choose to love themselves, and others, and the program teaches them how to do this.

Scarlett explained: “We start off with courage, based on Jesse's example of courage. Jesse actually saved nine of his classmate's lives before losing his own on that day. When the gunman came into Jesse's first grade classroom, his gun either jammed or ran out of bullets. And it was during the short delay where he changed clips that Jesse shouted to his classmates to run. And they said it was because he told them to run that they actually ran because they had been frozen in terror. The intercom was on throughout the whole school so they heard everything. And even in this complete panic and terror, Jesse didn't run but stayed by his dying teacher’s side. I had this thought that Jesse was protecting her. This is the realness of what happened and continues to happen in America. Since Sandy Hook we've had over 220 school related shootings.”

What this foundation means to Scarlett? “It brings me joy hearing feedback, and seeing for myself, how educators and students are transforming their lives through our Choose Love Enrichment Program. We have transformed and saved lives all over the world and because of dedicated partners and organizations, it is free.”

WJ:  If you had the attention of the world for five minutes, what would you do or say?

SL: “I hear people say, what can I do, I'm just one person, but what I've learned, being just one person, is that we are so incredibly powerful. There is no one else out there "to fix this". If they could have, they would have. Right? It's up to us to be the change we wish to see. One solution is Social Emotional Learning, it's cultivating a generation, that understands, that has the skills and tools that will then pass it down. Another way is choosing love. Consciously choosing loving thoughts over angry thoughts.”

She continued: “There's an epidemic of anxiety out there and the opposite of anxiety is action. And so, it's taking a positive step. We're spreading this message, the formula for choosing love, which starts with courage. Courage is like a muscle, it needs to be practiced, right? And we think of courage as just courageous acts, but we practice courage every single day when we are kind when someone's not kind to us, when we tell the truth when maybe a lie would do just as well, when we do the right thing and no one's looking. That takes courage. We all have the courage that Jesse showed at six years old when he saved the lives of his friends. Courage to be grateful, when things aren't going our way in life, courage to forgive… forgiveness is so vitally important, it's the number one way to have healthy and positive relationships, and we can have the courage to forgive, even when the person who hurt us isn't sorry. I didn’t start this story but I can write the ending through forgiveness.”

 WJ: Who is your hero and why?

 SL:  “My boys are my heroes, and it kind of makes me emotional. Jesse is my hero for his courage during his last few minutes, the courage that he showed throughout his life... his ability to be joyful in every situation, and the example that he left for all of us.

And JT, his older brother, is my hero because of the way that he chose to respond in the wake of his little brother's murder, and his own personal devastation. JT, chose to start an organization called Newtown Helps Rwanda.  And this was his own choice by the way, if I told him to do it, he wouldn't have done it!  He chose to raise money for a group of orphan genocide survivors who had reached out to him, via live skype from Rwanda. They said, Hey JT, we heard about what happened to your little brother all the way over here in Rwanda, we wanted you to know that you're going to be okay and feel joy again. They told him about their own personal suffering of losing their families, experiencing attempted murder on themselves... and how they overcame that. And the amazing thing was, and I didn't put two and two together until later, was that, they got through their tragedy by using the same formula that JT and I use which is the formula for choosing love. They got through it through courage, gratitude, forgiveness and helping others. It was amazing. It was life changing for both of us and he turned around and started that organization, and he said to me, I'll never forget this: "Mom, those kids reached out to me in love and I'm going to reach back out and start raising money to send them to university. And within the last five years, JT has sent a couple of orphan genocide survivors to university, has helped build self-sustaining fish ponds for former child soldiers in Uganda and helped countless severely traumatized kids in Connecticut. The incredible lesson is that JT is healing himself by being in service to others.

119352Scarlett and the Dalai LamaJesseLewisChooseLove.orgCompassion in action. It's one of the character values we use in our program. It's incredibly powerful and there's so much science behind how doing for others heals us.”

For anyone interested in participating in this program please click on the JESSE LEWIS CHOOSE LOVE FOUNDATION link below. The MY HERO Project is proud to announce we will be partnering with Scarlett and her foundation to spread Jesse’s message and make available all of our multi-media tools to empower students around the world to share their stories of healing and inspiration.



Page created on 1/3/2018 8:29:41 PM

Last edited 5/30/2022 6:59:31 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

JESSE LEWIS CHOOSE LOVE FOUNDATION - The Choose Love Enrichment ProgramTM is a free Pre-K through 12th grade social and emotional learning program that teaches educators and their students how to choose love in any circumstance and helps them become connected, resilient, and empowered individuals. These skills, tools and attitudes have been proven through decades of scientific research to be the best way to ensure a healthy, meaningful and purpose-filled life.
Check out and get involved with JT's foundation helping kids around the world in honour of JESSE - JT started this foundation after child survivors of the Rwandan genocide reached out to him over skype, to tell their stories of tragedy and how they moved forward with hope and love and in sharing with JT gave him hope that one day he could also heal. He decided to fundraise to start sending them to college. And he has. And you can help him.
Create Global Healing - Dr. Lori Leyden, introduced JT via skype to the child survivors of the Rwandan genocide who would help him on his journey of healing from the tragedy of losing his little brother. The work of this organization is critically important for the world and for all those who need to heal.
Nurturing healing love - TEDX talk with Scarlett Lewis at Fayettville, USA

Extra Info


Forgiveness means taking our personal power back. That's my new, simplified definition, because I forgave Adam Lanza, and in doing so I cut the cord that attached me to pain and I took my personal power back. It doesn't mean that I condone what he did, it doesn't mean that I don't hold him accountable for what he did, right? It doesn't mean that I forget what he did. It simply means that I'm taking my personal power back. I do not allow him to have control over my thoughts, that impact my feelings, that impact my behaviour. I'm taking my personal power back. and then courage to practice compassion in action, which is helping other people and we see how incredibly powerful that is through JT's example. All of the nurturing, healing love that we give out we can get back! We get back ourselves! And there's science behind that. There's so much that we can do as individuals to create a safer more peaceful and loving world, and we all need to do this together. Everybody needs to take responsibility and do a little something, it reduces anxiety, it increases your sense of personal power and joy, and I love the Margaret Mead quote where she says, Never doubt that a group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world because, indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. And that's what we're out to do.