By Ana Ruiz Brictson | Staff Writer, Video by Kaity Kempf | Broadcast reporter
Michael Oher, Super Bowl champion and subject of the movie “The Blind Side,” spoke at the Baylor Club on Tuesday, hosting the Rise Up! Waco fundraising event benefiting Talitha Koum.
Talitha Koum is a mental health therapeutic nurture center dedicated to supporting trauma-affected children, and it focuses on the brain development of at-risk children from infancy to five years old.
Its mission is to educate children with intellectual capability and emotional resiliency and to prepare them to participate with the community while supporting them with their goals.
Talitha Koum executive director Susan Cowley said that faith has allowed the organization to become what it is today and that Oher was the perfect speaker for the event.
“[Oher] started talking to me about how when … he was a little boy … he would watch people, and he said, ‘I knew immediately what type of person they were, right away,’” Cowley said. “Micheal had to learn. Our children have to learn.”
Cowley said care and consistency are the keys to making trauma-affected children feel safe in their learning environment and setting them on the right path. Consistency among teachers, volunteers and mentors is just as important.
“Trauma-affected people have to look at your face,” Cowley said. “Very quickly, they know this fast, do you love them or do you judge them? Do you respect them or do you judge them? They have to know if you’re safe.”
Consistency and care played a massive role in Oher’s success story as well, as he said his tutor and mentor, Sue Mitchell, along with others were vastly important for him to lean on.
“Knowing that that person’s not going to leave you and they’re going to be there every day — and you’re not going to show up one day and they’re gone — that’s the trust that you build,” Oher said. “Then you start in success.”
Many of Talitha Koum’s children have beaten the odds, like Oher.
“It’s about being patient and knowing that a kid is so far behind and that I’m not going to give up on him,” Oher said.
Oher said it isn’t only up to those pouring into the children and young adults; they have to want to succeed and challenge themselves to work hard and achieve their goals.
“It goes back to that kid meeting that person halfway,” Oher said, “I’ve always wanted it. I always said that I was going to do the opposite thing people were doing around me growing up. So you got to meet people halfway at the end of the day.”
Steven Torres, a high school student who went through the Talitha Koum program, sat next to Oher at the dinner. Through mentorship and hard work, he said he now plans to join the U.S. Marines. Oher referenced Torres’ story in his speech, emphasizing the importance of the organization.
“Steven having role models and male figures and the things that you guys are doing— it’s needed,” Oher said. “It’s a kid like me that’s out there dreaming and looking for something like that.”