By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Leigh Anne Tuohy said the lesson in the blockbuster movie “The Blind Side” is not what she and her family did in adopting Michael Oher, a homeless teen at the time.
The real lesson, said the woman whose openhearted approach to a life at extreme risk is inspiring audiences around the globe, is recognizing such needs and such potential all around us and then responding.
“Michael Oher was deemed valueless by society,” she said. “No one gave him any value whatsoever, much less the fact that he could come to the University of Mississippi and that he could make the honor roll and that he could be a first-team, All-American NFL football player making millions of dollars a year.
“My husband said it better than anybody – ‘We truly believe in our family that the kid who knows the cure to cancer lives in inner-city Memphis, inner-city Jackson, inner-city Atlanta … and all that kid needs is opportunity and hope and love.’”
The Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy presented Tuohy with its inaugural Legacy Award on Saturday at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on the Oxford campus.
“The story we are celebrating here today … gave us the ultimate example of Ole Miss’ being involved in transforming another life,” said Chancellor Dan Jones.
The movie tells of the Tuohys’ taking Oher into their upper-class family and his transformation from a youth with little promise of a future to an elite professional athlete, including the nerve-wracking, tear-jerking and gut-busting story of his college recruitment.
“We did give Michael some choices, believe it or not,” said Tuohy, who was a cheerleader at the Oxford institution and met her husband, Sean, who was a Rebel basketball player. “I didn’t take a baseball bat and say ‘You are going to Ole Miss.’ He looked around, and we left it open to him. In the end, the movie was very accurate: He came back after he signed, and I was so happy, and I was jumping up and down, and he told me, ‘I was always going to go to Ole Miss.’ I said, ‘Well, you could have told me a little earlier!’”
The Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy was founded 10 years ago and has built a $7.3 million endowment that supports 60 scholarships. Each new scholarship is commemorated in a rose-planting ceremony and comes with a built-in mentoring program.
“Each one of our scholars has a rose bush planted there to represent the university’s investment, the Women’s Council’s investment in their lives, and to remind us that just as the roses need to be nurtured, so do the Ole Miss Women’s Council scholars,” Jones said. “The OMWC is involved not only in raising funds, but in transforming lives.”
Rose Jackson Flenorl, one of the Council’s founding members, told the audience, “Leigh Anne has shown extraordinary dedication to mentoring and guiding young minds – and more than what you saw with Michael Oher’s story, but what she’s done that many have never seen … and her story has caused countless others to do the same.
“Mentors help people develop their own potential and their own vision for the future,” Flenorl said. “If you help someone up the hill, you get closer to the top yourself. Leigh Anne, you’re at the top.”
Tuohy insisted that everyone can reach out to those in need around them.
“I’m not saying to everybody in this room that I think you should go out and adopt a 6-foot-6, 350-pound black kid, because it doesn’t work for everybody, but there are plenty of things you can do,” she said. “It doesn’t take much. Do something, and do it well. I promise you, you can change a life doing that.”