Henderson, Tennessee — (Oct. 12, 2023) — When HK Derryberry tells a group of students to never give up, they listen. Derryberry, a motivational speaker, and his dear friend and mentor, Jim Bradford, visited Freed-Hardeman University in late September to share their story — a tale layered with loss, joy and triumph during their 24-year friendship.
Derryberry was born three months premature following a car accident in which his mother died. Due to the accident and premature birth, he was born with several medical conditions, including blindness and cerebral palsy. Raised by his paternal grandmother, Pearl, his formative years were lonely and lacked a positive male role model until Bradford walked into his grandmother’s job at Mrs. Winner’s on that fateful Saturday, Oct. 16, 1999. “When I met him 24 years ago, I didn’t know I had time to spend with a young kid who needed help, who needed a friend,” Bradford said. “It’s been a blessing for me and it’s been a blessing for him, too. Maybe others will find their own HK.”
Bradford and Derryberry spoke during chapel in Loyd Auditorium and to nursing majors in Brown-Kopel’s Ayers Auditorium. Their visit was part of this year’s Connections Series, which was themed “True Grit: Learning to Do Hard Things.” Derryberry’s advice to students — always be positive. “The only disability we have is a negative attitude,” he said. “With God in your life anything is possible.” Their presentation is a playful back-and-forth retelling of their first meeting in a Mrs. Winner’s restaurant in Nashville. Derryberry, who was 9-years-old at the time, sat alone in a booth with his ear pressed against an old radio during one of his grandmother’s lengthy shifts. Bradford approached Derryberry, curious about who the small boy with white plastic braces on his legs was. What grew was a bond of friendship and the revelation of God’s amazing plan for their lives, Bradford said.
“In life I’ve always been considered an underdog,” Derryberry said. “Doctors believed I’d never walk, but here I am, having walked in without a wheelchair. I learned to read braille [with the use of only his left hand] and on June 1, 2012, I received a regular academic high school diploma. They didn’t think I would live, but on July 8, I turned 33 years old, and I’m still kicking. I (will) never give up.”
In addition to Derryberry’s amazingly positive outlook on life, he also possesses an incredibly rare skillset. When he asks someone their birthday, he reveals his unique ability to tell an individual not only on which day of the week they were born but also any historic event that occurred on that day. His condition is called hyperthymesia, also known as highly superior autobiographical memory.
FHU freshman Anica Riley was impressed when Derryberry told her the day of the week she was born in May as well as when her birthday fell on a Memorial Day. After meeting HK, Riley said, “He was certainly inspirational.”
The mission of Freed-Hardeman University is to help students develop their God-given talents for His glory by empowering them with an education that integrates Christian faith, scholarship and service. With locations in Henderson and Memphis, FHU offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees. More information is available at fhu.edu.