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.
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, 1 p.m.
What: Young local performer Tessa Duc will perform Kind Every Time theme song on stage. Joe Drexler (Bethegame.ca) will present his positive, uplifting message to families about building strong kids from the inside out and putting an end to bullying in our schools.
What else: Pledge wall will be in Centre Court for people to sign (pledging to be #KindEveryTime and end bullying in schools.) Kindest Person in Ottawa Contest – nominate someone you think is exceptionally kind and have the chance to win a St. Laurent gift card and $250 to the charity of their choice. Random acts of kindness and goodies will be given during the event.
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