Winter 2013: Chris Hendricks '07 on overcoming adversity
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age, Chris Hendricks '07 was once told he would never walk. With a guitar in his hands and a message in his heart, he defies those odds every day.
By Emma Jones
Survival is a word Chris Hendricks knows well. As a child, Hendricks underwent a series of treatments and surgeries related to his cerebral palsy. He frequently needed a wheelchair and in high school weighed less than 90 pounds.
He endured physical and verbal taunts from other students and still bears a scar underneath his chin, a wound opened three times by school bullies. Persistently ignored, harassed or underestimated, Hendricks spent most of his high school years very much alone.
“I could see in the eyes of the people around me that they were afraid of me,” he says, rubbing the scar. “But when I got picked on or beat up, it was a form of attention. At least someone acknowledged my existence that day.”
Though his music reflects his life – his battles and Herculean efforts to overcome them are apparent in his lyrics – singing wasn’t enough for Hendricks. He began to see instances of bullying in the news, stories about teenagers committing suicide after intense verbal and physical abuse by peers.
Then bullying became a buzzword.
“It’s like the adults woke up one day and said, ‘Hey! Bullying is happening! That’s bad! We need to fix that!’” he shakes his head and says quietly, “But I can tell you from experience that it’s been happening for a long, long time.”
Wanting to do something about it, Hendricks started the Breaking Down Barriers program, which keeps the band busy with a packed schedule of events like the one at St. Mary’s School. They are reaching hundreds of elementary to high school students through a series of in-school presentations that weave performances of Hendricks’ pop-rockalternative music into an intensely personal delivery of his anti-bullying message.
Hendricks doesn’t walk into a room full of kids and tell them not to bully each other, though. His delivery is much more nuanced. For him, it’s about encouraging students to find their own passion and drive. Hendricks found his through music. “It took me a really long time to figure out that I mattered … that I mattered whether the people around me wanted me to or not,” he says.