Little 4-year-old Melisha Morganna Gibson never had such hope. On Oct. 12, 1976, the precious child died at the abusive hands of her stepfather and mother. Both were charged, tried and convicted for this most despicable of crimes. Both were imprisoned. Both have since died in those prisons.
Few Cleveland and Bradley County residents do not know the story of Melisha Gibson, of her unwarranted death, and of a community and nation whose collective voices cried out as one at such an unthinkable outrage. Souls that weep together, consciences that are filled with the same remorse and humanitarians who share a cause have the power to create change.
Such change quickly spread across our nation in the aftermath of tiny Melisha’s passing 37 years ago.
Laws governing child abuse, and most importantly child abuse prevention, were written and in some cases rewritten.
Social service agencies, and juvenile protection organizations, were trained and retrained, and new operations were given birth.
Law enforcement officers and criminal investigators formed pacts that no such atrocities could ever again be tolerated, and should they occur the culprits would face swift justice to the severest degree as allowed by law.
Churches prayed as one.
Preachers and their flocks looked to the heavens for direction.
School systems readily accepted the added roles of watching for signs of physical abuse and emotional strain on the bodies, faces and ways of their young pupils.
Nonprofit entities mobilized and gave life to new and expanded services aimed at strengthening the family, helping parents to cope with the stresses of modern day, and encouraging youngsters to befriend policemen and social workers whose big hearts and keen eyes could wrest tragedy from the clutches of evil.
But most of all, the loss of our Melisha gave voice to the defenseless — children. Its echoes included all children, those from impoverished homes, those born into wealth and those whose lives are spent in and out of the judicial system whether or not from their own decisions and personal accord.
It is in this light that our hometown again will remember — with a promise of never to forget — the short life, and the heartbreaking legacy, of this lost angel.
At 7 o’clock tonight on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway, a gathering of mourners will begin a somber trek of remembrance. It is called the “Light of Hope Moonlight Walk,” a calm moment of reflection entering its fourth year.
Soft music will fill the air.
Whispers of sadness, yet flanked by strong words of inspiration, will unite the crowd. Hearts will be warmed. Eyes will become reddened in hope of a better day and a gentler time. A message of promise and a time of deliverance will comfort the souls who walk this winding journey in life.
All will step as one along an illuminated path to victory, one whose celebration will be tempered in spirit yet mighty in tribute to all that has been accomplished in the 37 years since life stood still within this community and for all who called it home.
Our people are fortunate for all such changes and for the presence of an organization called CASA of Bradley County. These Court Appointed Special Advocates are working to assure every child has a voice — that which was given to Melisha Gibson, but only in death.
CASA and its executive director, Suzanne Wisdom, have again brought the “Light of Hope Moonlight Walk” to our beloved hometown.
We urge all who believe in the miracle of life, and those who cherish the gift of children, to attend.
It isn’t just for us.
It isn’t just in recognition of CASA.
It isn’t just a show of conviction.
It isn’t just for a community still coming to grips with tragedy.
It isn’t just for the goodwilled who work daily to right a terrible wrong.
It isn’t just to find meaning to a time of deep sorrow.
It is for Melisha.
It is to give voice to one so fragile whose cries were never heard.