By Hannah Neumann
Nearly 10 years ago, life for the Tuohy family was forever changed with two simple words. Those two words became the foundation of a new mindset that changed not only their own lives, but the lives of many.
Sean and Leigh Anne shared this story with Baylor on Tuesday night as part of “On Topic With President Ken Starr,” series with the notion of giving alive in their hearts.
On Nov. 24, 2004, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy were driving with their daughter, Collins, and son, Sean Jr., to get food for their Thanksgiving meal the next day. En route, they saw a kid standing outside of the school, something strange for a holiday break.
“The truth is, I’d have driven past him at 35 miles an hour and wouldn’t have even bothered to stop,” Sean said. “But my wife said two words to me as we passed him and those two words changed our lives. She looked at me and she said, ‘Turn around.’”
Leigh Anne became increasingly aware of the young man’s circumstances.
“I said ‘Well here’s the deal. I’m not leaving and you’re not staying here so we better figure out something very quickly,’” she said.
After agreeing to drop him at a bus stop, the Tuohy family drove away, but he stayed in Leigh Anne’s mind the rest of the break. Monday morning, she went to the school in search of the boy with the intention of bringing him warm clothes. After several failed attempts, she found herself in the principal’s office.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘He’s not going to make it. He’s struggling in every class, he’s struggling, he’s not going to make it. Don’t get involved,’” Leigh Anne said. “Those were three words that probably shouldn’t have been said to me.”
Sean and Leigh Anne decided to take matters into their own hands, finding the young man, Michael Oher, and eventually taking him home.
Sean said their decision to get involved was what changed their lives, what changed the life of Oher and what is still today changing the lives of people across the world.
“I don’t care where you are in life right now or what you’re doing,” he said. “If those two words my wife said can have the impact that they’ve had on this world, imagine what you could do with just more than two words.”
Leigh Anne said it is too often that people would rather turn the other way than extend their hand and offer help.
“If Michael would have fallen dead on the sidewalk there isn’t a single person in this world who would’ve cared,” she said. “Society deemed Michael 100 percent valueless.”
With the Tuohy family’s adoption, love, guidance, support and affection, Oher went from homeless, to a hometown, and eventually, universal inspiration.
Going on to play college football for the University of Mississippi and earning unanimous All-American honors, Oher was drafted in the first round draft in the 2009 NFL Draft. His triumphant road to success was the subject of Michael Lewis’ book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” and the Academy Award-winning film, “The Blind Side,” starring Tim McGraw and Sandra Bullock as Sean and Leigh Anne.
Leigh Anne said with one single act of kindness, Michael’s life and position in society was forever changed.
“If someone as valuable as Michael Oher almost falls through the cracks, can you imagine who gets left behind?” She asked.
With this notion, the Tuohy family started their foundation, Making It Happen. According to their website, the mission is to bring hope and support to families that are fostering or adopting children and young adults.
“We benefited far more than Michael ever did,” Leigh Anne said. “We thought we knew about giving and about what being a giver was. We got to give every single day, unconditionally and it was life changing. We learned about loving someone that looks different from you.”
Friday, Baylor will participate in National Adoption Day. According to the website, National Adoption Day is a day of celebration of adoptive families and an opportunity for courts to open their doors and finalize the adoptions of some of the 140 thousand children in America who need a forever family.
“These kids are worth it,” Sean said. “The important thing is to never give up. We didn’t do anything for Michael other than letting him become the person he was supposed to become.”
When asked about the risk Leigh Anne felt in bringing Michael Oher into her home, she said risk is an important and inevitable part of life.
“We all take risks every single day,” she said. “We have blowouts every day in this country, bridges collapse, it’s just what you choose to take a risk on. Take a risk on somebody. Turn around.”