I pretty much like every single thing about this wonderful story from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, that comes to us just in time for back-to-school. Joe Drexler is my kind of hero. It’s a story of courage and kindness and one where kindness persevered over the bullies! He is making a difference. Hooray! Parents, you might want to check out how to bring this program to your child’s school as well. It sounds really special and powerful. As Joe reminds all of us, “Be the Change.” Enjoy!
Making kindness contagious in Ottawa schools
Joe Drexler said he’ll never forget the day when he refused to go to school after a bully threatened to take his steel-toed boots and kick his teeth in.
“There wasn’t a day that went by for three years that I didn’t get pushed down, spat at, kicked, pushed from behind, punched, put in a headlock, or get my head mashed against the wall in the bathroom.”
After years of being picked on, he had enough, but his father challenged him to apologize to his tormentor, which had him “shaking like a tree in the wind.”
One day after leaving school, Drexler said his bully was waiting for him around the corner, but instead of running home like he did every single day, he confronted his bully. But what he said next stunned his friends.
“I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt you or made you upset, I never wanted to do that. He looked at me and said, ‘um, um, um I’m sorry, too,’ ” Drexler said.
After that day the bullying stopped and Drexler vowed to never let anyone bully him, “if they did, I would deal with it head on with kindness.”
Now, he’s challenging others to do the same to help end bullying and promote kindness with a two-week event at the St. Laurent Centre. There will be random acts of kindness in the mall, a pledge wall and a contest to find the kindest person in Ottawa. It will also act as a fundraiser for Drexler’s program Kind Every Time, which takes place throughout the school year. The kindness event, which runs until Aug. 30, hopes to make kindness contagious amongst students as they prepare to go back to school in September. Drexler, a father of four who lives in Toronto and is the founder of Be The Change, will attend an event at the mall on Aug. 23 at 1 p.m.
Carrie Irvine, marketing director for St. Laurent, came up with the idea after wanting to do something that promotes a positive message for families and kids as they get ready for back to school.
“I was inspired by Joe’s Kind Every Time movement and how he motivates people with his enthusiasm and passion for the cause. It’s important for me as a parent to know there are leaders making kids feel strong and empowered,” Irvine said.
“It’s so important to have a refresher. It’s so important to start on a positive note,” said Drexler, 41, who admits that schools are having problems tackling the issue of bullying and that’s where he thinks he can help.
No one wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘I’m going to be a bully,’ but most of the time children don’t know that they’re doing it.
He said the bullying had become so relentless that it was destroying his self-confidence and it was affecting his grades. “I just felt sad, I felt dark, I felt alone because nobody was sticking up for me.”
“I got to think deep down they probably knew, but like most parents they didn’t know what to do,” said Drexler, who frequently made excuses after coming home with ripped shirts and a black eye.
“When was bullied I could run home lock the door and I’m safe, nobody else could hurt me. Today, kids can run home lock the door, but then they are being tormented online.”
He’s trying to make long-lasting change in schools by building character and compassion in students. He added that bullying is a learned behaviour and it can be difficult to pinpoint where it starts.
“What we try to do is de-program that and re-program them with positivity, kindness, empathy and compassion. We’re seeing amazing transformation, especially with the kids who have been isolated and feel like they’ve been pushed down and stomped on.
“If we focus our thoughts on kindness and not hate or bullying, then we will slowly see a transition and that’s exactly what’s happened,” he said.