Value people, Tuohy challenges those fighting poverty - Word&Way

Value people, Tuohy challenges those fighting poverty

JEFFERSON CITY — Christmas is everyone's favorite time of year "because you get to give things…for no reason," declared Collins Tuohy. "But if that is such an addictive feeling, why do we stop on Dec. 26?"

Tuohy challenged attendees at the 2011 Poverty Summit: Empowering Communities for Economic Opportunity held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City on June 14.

Collins Tuohy shares her family's story with attendees at the 2011 Poverty Summit in Jefferson City June 14.

Best known as the adoptive sister of Baltimore Ravens player Michael Oher as portrayed in the book and movie "The Blind Side," Tuohy shared how the movie developed and the ministry that has grown out of it.

Oher attended Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tenn., where Tuohy also attended and her father, Sean, worked. The two knew who Oher was but did not know his story. The elder Tuohy learned the young student could not afford lunch and arranged to anonymously purchase a meal ticket for Oher.

On Thanksgiving, the family found Oher walking along a busy road, headed to the school. Realizing the building had been locked up for the holiday, the Tuohys took him back to the bus stop. Oher had been riding the bus into town and walking to school from there.

As the Tuohys learned the young man's story, they invited him into their home and then adopted him. The same age, Oher and Collins were in the same grade at Briarcrest and went to college together at the University of Mississippi.

Book author Michael Lewis and Tuohy's dad had been friends in high school. Lewis met Oher and heard the family's story while visiting. Lewis had been writing some articles for the New York Times, and his wife suggested telling about the Tuohys' experience as part of the series.

The author's publisher decided Lewis should write a 90-page mini-book about the family, which would be distributed to military personnel, but then determined a longer book would sell. The New York Times bestseller was optioned in Hollywood, with John Lee Hancock as director, becoming a blockbuster that earned more than $260 million.

The family made no money on the movie but feels the benefit came through the lives "The Blind Side" touched. The Tuohys still receive letters daily from people who have taken in the homeless or adopted a child and from parents whose child in sports was helped.

The lesson, Collins Tuohy challenged, is to develop an awareness of people. Some 45,000-50,000 people drive along the road Oher walked each school day, Tuohy explained. If he had been hit by a car or had fallen, "there probably wouldn't have been anyone who cared," she said. "Our family gave him hope, love and opportunity."

Oher completed four years of high school in two years and finished college on the dean's list. As a rookie for the Ravens, he played every game. He participates in the family's Making It Happen Foundation and is starting his own foundation, Blocking for Hope. He also is involved with the Boys & Girls Club and plays and talks with kids in Baltimore.

"If 55,000 people missed the mark on Michael, who are we missing?" Tuohy asked.

"There is something that everyone can do," she said. Even small things "can impact someone in a huge way."

Tuohy emphasized that those being missed may hold the key that would change life for everyone. "I strongly believe with all my heart…I believe the kid who develops the cure for cancer will come out of the inner city…. If we are missing those kids…I constantly tell myself that the kid with the cure for cancer is being missed…that keeps me focused," she said.

She challenged listeners to use her family as an example. "When you leave here, with the first person you meet,…get to know that person and place value on that person…. That may be the one person who will change your life forever."