Melisha Morganna Gibson would be reaching a milestone in her life this year, but she didn’t live past her fifth birthday. She was killed at the hands of her stepfather and mother.
Melisha would have been 40. She died Oct. 12, 1976.
Melisha was an abused child and her death will be remembered Thursday evening as the “Light of Hope Moonlight Walk” is held at the Bradley County Greenway
“CASA of Bradley County is so proud to announce our third Annual Moonlight Walk in memory of Melisha Gibson. It seems like yesterday we were planning the first one. Since we opened in 2008 and started the walk in 2010, the community has been there with us every step of the way in our fight against child abuse and neglect,” said CASA executive director Suzanne Wisdom.
Everyone was shocked, appalled and deeply saddened by her death. The case immediately gained the attention from national television and newswire services. The New Yorker Magazine also covered the story.
“The community quickly took action and within months the child abuse laws in the state of Tennessee and the rest of the nation changed. Everyone who was around in Cleveland in 1976 remembers the death of little Melisha Gibson,” Wisdom said.
CASA boardmembers began organizing a walk in Melisha’s honor so her short life can be remembered and in the hope the laws of child abuse will continue to become better and stronger because of her.
“In 1976, the court system was much different than it is today; no one was able to be that voice for Melisha in court. Today, we are fortunate to have CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Bradley County to represent the best interest of abused and neglected children in the courts,” Wisdom said.
The CASA program trains volunteers from the community. After training, the volunteer is appointed by a juvenile court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children who are petitioned into the court system.
The CASA volunteer makes independent recommendations to the court for services, which focus on the needs of the child and advocates for a permanent and safe home for each child within the shortest time possible.
“Since 2008, CASA of Bradley County has been the voice for over 300 children in the court system,” she added.
“Every year, thousands of children in Tennessee are involved in court cases, although not one of them committed a single crime. Many of these children are the victims of child abuse, abandonment or neglect. They feel betrayed, alone and afraid. Some face life-threatening circumstances at home, others are ignored and neglected by the very people who should care most about them,” Wisdom explained.
“These children are thrust into a judicial system that is overwhelming even to many adults. Too often, their small voices go unheard by the courts and state agencies. These children desperately need a caring, compassionate person who will advocate solely for them — for their safety, security, and happiness,” added Wisdom.
Individuals, schools, civic groups and churches all participate in the walk which has grown to appropriately 500 walkers during the past three years.
It will begin at the Greenway near the former First Tennessee Bank located on Raider Drive.
Registration begins at 6 p.m. and the walk takes place at 7 p.m.
According to Wisdom, the Moonlight Walk is approximately one-mile in length.
Cleveland High School Cheerleaders and Choir will be participating and providing entertainment.
The Rev. Rusty Azbill of First Baptist Church is slated as the guest speaker at the Walk.