published Monday, December 5th, 2011

Cook: Words I want to say to Drew Herrmann

Keep your heart open.


You were a victim of violence, and such a wound can make our hearts want to crawl back to the farthest corner of ourselves, pull down the gate and clamp the locks tight. Very tight.


We need you in this world. We need your guts, your titanium-strength backbone, which bullies can never break. We need your XXXL-sized voice, which already has echoed throughout this city in the name of justice and fairness and school safety.

Hamilton County Schools want to teach character education? Drew Herrmann, they ought to turn the whole curriculum over to you.

And you're 13 years old.

In September, you got beaten up in your school's locker-room at Hunter Middle. A group of boys held you down. Someone filmed it with his cellphone. There was no adult around to help.

Let me say that again: There was no adult around to help.

Police discovered that these boys had been beating up others for months. Since the start of school. One of them even confessed to planning the beatings ahead of time.

How is it that a gang of teen boys can feel so safe, so protected, that they can plot out locker-room violence without worrying that a teacher might interfere?

How is it that premeditated locker-room violence occurs -- for months -- in a school?

You're the one -- risking your own neck -- who finally spoke out against it.

I've been told you want to stay at Hunter. You really like many of your teachers. That's why you went to the administration, hoping something would be done.

And then to the police. And then to Todd South, the Times Free Press reporter whose Nov. 27 article drew attention to this issue.

The bullies were suspended. The locker-room violence might still be happening if it weren't for you.

You are brave in ways I never knew at 13.

Such bravery is a hell of a lot more important than test scores.

I'll bet you a month's worth of homework that many men waking up this morning in Chattanooga remember what it's like to be bullied. Middle school -- then and now -- has lots of monsters, and I promise: You are not alone.

But the cool thing about you, the part of you that makes me want to shake your hand till it falls off, is that you're already in touch with the medicine, the remedy, the magic spell that breaks the wound of bullying.

You spoke out against the silence. You turned over the tables. You raised hell.

And Drew, our entire city should thank you.

The Hamilton County school board ought to be lining up to shake your hand. Photos, news conferences, keys to the city. You ought to be tired of all the congratulatory phone calls from principals, school board members, teachers, mayors.

Robert Alford -- principal of Hunter Middle -- ought to trot you out onstage and say to the entire school: This is what it means to have character. He ought to send a message by the way he treats you: We will not, for one millisecond, allow violence in our school.

Parades. No homework for a month. Free ice cream. Your picture on billboards. Standing ovations that take the place of math class.

Instead, you've heard the bullies may return to school. One has already posted online threats against you.

Has the school administration or school board said anything -- any tiny bit of reassurance or encouragement?

"They've told us nothing," your mom said to me.

Alford should investigate whether the teacher responsible for the locker-room was negligent. And if so, fire him. Immediately.

Rick Smith, now's your chance to shine as a superintendent. Do something.

Drew, you're going to learn and grow from this. I hope you don't ever believe the lie that the body is what makes the man. It's his heart.

Like yours, my man. Just like yours.

David Cook can be reached at

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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NancyS said...

Hip Hip Horray!!You are fantastic for your article on Drew Herrmann!! For a change the victim is getting the attention. Your article brought tears to my eyes. I do not know this young man - but I have grandchildren of the same age. This little man is a Hero and deserves ALL the attention - not the bullies!! They need to be punished and no attention at all!! Bless you and Merry Christmas. You put out great Commentary's - keep up the good work!!

December 5, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.
Legend said...

Great article!! One for the VICTIM of bullies. One for the victim who doesn't become even more victimized when they dare to speak up!! At least they didn't shoot the messenger in this case. However, how often are we adults guilty of further attacking the messenger of bullying and abuse when the culprits are someone we admire and hold to the highest standards?

December 5, 2011 at 9:04 a.m.
robbie123 said...

One of the most honest articles that I have ever read. Thank you David for bringing to light that these young men and women can stand up even though some will be ridiculed or worse. My hat goes off to these that are willing to do so, and maybe others can be so brave and do the same. Hopefully our school administrators will be brave enough to take it further!!!

December 5, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.
Vapfo said...

I applaud your words to Drew Herrmann. His actions took courage and should be celebrated. As a former principal I feel compelled to speak up for the principal. You state he should investigate the teacher responsible for supervision as if you are assuming that is not happening. Mr. Alford does not have the same freedom to speak as you and the victim. Let's assume he is doing everything he can to address this issue and will be able to offer that assurance to all parents in the near future. And another thing to think about, do you want to assign a teacher to the locker room to watch while students are changing? Would you want to be the teacher in that position? The problem is more complex than portrayed. Again, I applaud your words to Drew and I do believe that schools should be safe for everyone. Acknowledge the complex challenge that is.

December 6, 2011 at 10:41 a.m.
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