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 the 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 cruel death, and of a community and nation whose collective voices cried out as one at such unthinkable outrage. Souls that weep together, consciences filled with the same remorse and humanitarians of a common cause have the power to create change.
Such results spread across our nation in the aftermath of tiny Melisha’s death.
Laws governing child abuse, and most importantly child abuse prevention, were written and in many 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 created pacts that no such atrocities could ever again be tolerated, and should they occur the culprits would face justice to its maximum degree as allowed by law.
Churches prayed as one.
Preachers and their flocks looked to the heavens for direction.
School systems readily accepted added roles like watching for signs of physical abuse and emotional strain on the bodies, faces and mannerisms 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 jaws of circumstance.
But most of all, the loss of our Melisha gave eventual voice to the defenseless — children ... 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 will again remember the short life, and the heartbreaking legacy, of this lost little girl.
At 7 p.m. Thursday on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway, as many as 500 mourners — and perhaps more — will begin a trek of remembrance. It is called the “Light of Hope Moonlight Walk,” and this is its third occurrence.
Registration will begin at 6 p.m. An hour later, memories will warm hearts and moisten eyes, all from area residents who believe in a better day and a gentler time. A choir will fill the air with song and Rev. Rusty Azbil of First Baptist Church will deliver a message of promise and words of hope.
All will walk an illuminated path to victory, one whose celebration will be in tribute to all that has been accomplished in the 36 years since life stood still within a 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 never given to Melisha Gibson.
CASA and its executive director, Suzanne Wisdom, have again brought the “Light of Hope Moonlight Walk” to our hometown.
We urge all who believe in the miracle of life, and the blessing called children, to attend.
It isn’t just for us.
It isn’t just in praise 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 are working to right a terrible wrong.
It is for Melisha.
It is to give voice to one so little whose cries were never heard.