He was known as Dereck Grant back then, maybe 8 years old, at school in Princeton, N.J., and susceptible to the kind of life-wracking moments all kids are.
“I can remember when I was in third grade I was being picked on by the class bully,” the Harlem Globetrotter they now call “Dizzy” told a gym full of K-5 students Monday at Hawthorne Elementary School on South Third Street West in Missoula.
“The thing that bothered me the most wasn’t that I was being picked on. It was the fact that all my friends and all my other classmates just sat around,” Grant said.
That’s where the “C” in the ABCs of bullying prevention comes in, after “Action” and “Bravery.”
“I needed somebody who showed compassion,” he said before entreating his audience of more than 350 students and faculty. “If you see somebody else being picked on, you want to be brave to that (bully) but you also want to show compassion. You want to ask yourself: How would I feel if that was me being picked on?”
It’s a message Grant, with an engaging smile and a flash of basketball-handling magic, delivers often to schools in the days leading up to the night he joins the rest of a traveling Globetrotters team. In this case that happens Friday at 7 p.m. in the Adams Center, when the “ambassadors of goodwill” make their annual appearance in Missoula.
Grant, who made a similar appearance last year at Russell Elementary, was an immediate hit at Hawthorne. He strolled off the stage in the Trotters’ familiar red, white and blue to the middle of the gym floor, spinning a basketball on a finger all the while.
He’s been on the Disney Channel and “The Celebrity Apprentice” and lots of other TV shows.
“Has anyone here heard of ‘Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?’ he wondered aloud, to a raucous response.
“Well, I was NOT smarter than a fifth-grader,” he said to even louder cheers from the west-end bleachers, where the fifth grades dominated.
He invited fourth-graders and a first-grader from the bleachers to help him make his ABC anti-bullying points – unintentionally choosing for “A” a girl named Alexis and for “C” a boy named Charlie.
For “Action” Grant stressed the first move you should make when faced or seeing someone else faced with a bully: Ask him or her to stop.
“Maybe that person doesn’t realize they’re picking on you, that what they’re doing is making you feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Bravery is doing something that comes especially hard to a kid at school: telling a teacher.
“I can remember when I was you guys’ age. Kids were scared to go tell the teacher because they didn’t want to be called a tattletale,” he said. “But there’s nothing wrong with telling an adult. You’re being responsible. You’re doing the right thing. You’re showing bravery. You’re putting an end to a bad situation.”
Those kinds of messages, Principal Becky Sorenson said, are already incorporated into a schoolwide behavior plan called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Chant leaders from fourth grade led the student body in something that launches each school assembly, the Hawthorne Hawk Chant.
It stresses responsibility, respect and safety, values that create a no-man’s land for bullies – in school and throughout life.
“As you grow older, you want to be able to show compassion for your co-workers also,” Grant pointed out.
Bravery will be an important attribute for him. He left the assembly and hit the snowy highways to Butte for his next round of appearances on Tuesday. Then it’s on to Bozeman and Billings.
When does he stop to shoot some hoops?
“I’ll do that when I get back here Friday night,” Grant said with a laugh.