It is 6:30 on a Monday evening in Brighton, Colorado, and you know 12-year-old Brody Ridder is enjoying himself at a local park because his voice carries above the rest.
“Hi!” he says emphatically into our cameras as he continually lifts a plastic helmet from the Marvel movie Ant-Man off his face, before immediately throwing it back down to conceal his braces.
Brody is playing with his friend, Justice, who is a few grades below him, but there is plenty of common ground as the two laugh about video games, YouTube videos, and their shared love of McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
“We can go get nuggets after this [interview] is over!” Brody exclaims to Justice.
The only other person that seems to be as lively as them is Brody’s mom, Cassandra, because she knows it has been a while since Brody has laughed like this with another kid his age.
“To see him be a little more outgoing and positive is just amazing to see,” she said, as she watches them play on the jungle gym.
Cassandra always knew Brody was a little different. Where kids his age would talk at length about cars and sports, Brody would sit quietly to the side focusing on his passion for dinosaurs and video games. She never understood how acutely it affected him, however, until he came back from his yearbook signing in May with only one signature: “Hope you make some more friends. – Brody.”
“When I picked him up from school that day, he was pretty sad,” Cassandra recounted. “He looked sad. All he wanted to do was put his AirPods in and not have any conversation. I took the yearbook, and I went into my room and cried a little bit.”
For all the bad she has seen on Facebook, Cassandra posted a picture of the yearbook signature on social media, hoping for a positive response, but the messages and letters Brody started getting were only the beginning of a tidal wave of support that was past anything either could have imagined.
“I got support from all over the world,” said Brody smiling. “I got it from Australia, from India.”
“We went to New York and got to see the Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen,” added Cassandra.
With each new adventure, Cassandra and Brody would take pictures and interact with famous celebrities who would reach out after hearing Brody’s story along the way.
“I met Dusty from Stranger Things. I met Paul Rudd. Russell Wilson sent me stuff,” said Brody.
“That was an awesome experience for both Brody and myself together,” Cassandra added, with a big smile.
As cool as it all was— the gestures, the trips, the gifts— the best part was it showed Brody that despite what he was dealing with at school, there weren’t just nice people out there, but he was worthy of their friendship.
“It changed my perspective on the world, too,” said Cassandra. “Not only did it change Brody’s life, but it changed my perspective because we all have our moments where we think society isn’t the best but this proved me wrong.”
In just a few short weeks, Brody will go back to the same school he attended last year, even after he was offered an opportunity to transfer districts. He says it is because he wants to help other kids who might find themselves in a similar situation for he is proof all it takes is a little kindness for us to flourish.
“I see so much opportunity for Brody,” said Cassandra. “I see so much happiness in Brody’s future. I just see a whole completely different child honestly.”