Leigh Anne Tuohy is the Tennessee firecracker played by Sandra Bullock in her Oscar-winning performance in the 2009 film The Blind Side. In case you missed the movie, Tuohy and her husband Sean were driving one evening when they saw 16-year-old Michael Oher in a tee-shirt and shorts at a bus stop -- in the snow. Leigh Anne made her husband turn around and pick him up.
The Tuohys eventually adopted Oher, supporting him as he fought to overcome poverty and instability and catch up in his academics. (Oher, one of 12 kids from a drug-addicted mother, had attended 11 schools in nine years by the time he reached high school, and spent some of that time homeless.) Oher graduated high school, played football for the University of Mississippi and is now an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.
The Tuohys launched the Making It Happen foundation to help impoverished youth and are the authors of In A Heartbeat: Sharing The Power of Cheerful Giving. Leigh Anne Tuohy recently spoke with Huff/Post50.
Did you ever think about what a single, relatively small act of kindness could do before you opened your heart and your home to Michael Oher?
No I really didn't. But afterward, I looked back and realized that this wasn't the first time I did something like this. I feel like in life you always have to have that aha moment to make you realize something, even if it was right under your nose the whole time. That's why we called our first book In a Heartbeat, Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving -- because our lives changed that quickly. You know just boom, in a heartbeat. But I have a new book coming out soon called "Turn Around" because those two words have become very impactful to us. So no, I don't think I ever had an agenda or a realization that one kind act could mean so much until we brought Michael into our home. Monday became Tuesday and Tuesday became Wednesday and so on... That was our life. And then it became obvious that even the smallest act of kindness could really have a significant impact.
Do you have any role models who led you to a life of giving?
We are inspired by our faith, our family, our friends. First, our parents inspired both of us our entire lives. Sean's dad was a school teacher and mine started out as a policeman. To me, you don't have any bigger givers than school teachers and policemen -- they are underpaid and overworked.
We are also very faith-based. We believe that everything that happened with Michael and our family and that we were able to share the story is nothing less than a miracle. None of this is an accident. It is 100 percent God-driven. We think that God uses simple people to share a message that's needed in the world at any given time. He didn't glorify our message by using Bill Gates or Warren Buffet and their giving. He used normal people and we're humbled by that.
We look at Jesus Christ as the best inspiration we could ever ask for. But we don't ever preach to others because that is what works for us, inspires us and gets us through the day. And I am inspired by what happens around me, the guy who's working hard and living paycheck to paycheck, giving his kids a good education. Ordinary people inspire me more that the Michael Jordans and Barack Obamas of the world. Don't get me wrong -- they are great people and I'm proud of what they've accomplished. But I'm more inspired by those who continue to work hard despite the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Are you taking aim at this issue now that you have a platform to get your voice out? And how do you differentiate your mission?
Yes. My family created the Making It Happen Foundation to try to be a last line of defense for kids that society has deemed valueless. We want to save those kids at risk of falling through the cracks of society. We know we can't be all things to all people so we are trying to brand our message and stay focused on the narrow issues of adoption, child care, foster care. The movie helped people to see that older kids are just as adoptable as younger ones, so loving and so wanting to be loved. We got Michael when he was 16!
We have a philosophy that there are no unwanted children -- just unfound families. It amazes me that people try to ensure that animals get friggin' air conditioning in shelters and I'm like, "really?" I mean, I am all about animals -- I have a dog, a cat, and a goldfish, but I am not the least bit interested in any of them until I make sure that every kid in America is in a home where he or she is loved and feels wanted. It is so very basic...
And we are totally hands on. We feel very responsible about someone's hard earned money and are very careful to put it to work responsibly and also to circle back and let people know where we used their money. Like we might say, "Billy Bob, we used your $500 to process an adoption or for transportation for a child in a Texas orphanage to get to a family in Arizona." We make sure you know where your money went and the difference you made. Like at Christmas, we decided to help keep families in their homes so we might call someone who gave us money and say, "Please know that you kept the Jones family in their home for the holidays. We paid their back rent, and their rent through March..." We don't hold on to anyone's money or hoard it or spend it on overhead. No way.
Why do you think your story resonated so powerfully with so many people?
Because we are normal everyday people. That's why America really relates to us. People see the movie and say, "That's me. I did that. Or, I can do that." The movie resonates with so many people because this is a country of givers. We are bunch of good people and the news just misses the good stories, choosing instead to highlight only the bad. There are so many kindnesses going on every day, on every street, in every town in America, and we just don't hear about them. We are tired of only the bad guys having a voice and we want everyone to get up and be a cheerleader for the right thing.
You are working on a new book, tentatively titled Turn Around. What's this one about and do you tell us how we can help?
Our first book was about what happened with Michael and how his life was turned around. There was such a clamor for information that it was easiest for us to put it all in a book. In fact, each of the chapters is written by different members of my family and even the actors in the movie, among others. After we finished that book I was asked to blog for AARP. I had no idea that I would enjoy writing so much. So this book is a compilation of my weekly blogs. And yes, they contain insights into how you can make a difference. The view from behind looks a whole lot different than the view from in front. And hopefully the book will cause you to turn around and be inspired to make a difference.
Who can give?
Everyone. Age doesn't matter -- you are never too old or too young to be a giver: 53.5 years old is actually the average age of an adoptive parent. If you're 70 or older, you can still have a huge impact on someone. And maybe you're in the best position at that point to actually help someone? And it's not always about money. If you smile five days in a row to someone, you have no idea what that could do. Or imagine if you walk over and knock on your neighbor's door and say, "Hey, I've never met you before but let me introduce myself to you and if you ever need anything, please let me know." Or offer to your acquaintances next door to watch their small child while they run to the grocery store or out for dinner.
It's time and kindness that make the biggest difference in people's lives. Opening a door for someone, going to a classroom and giving a teacher a 20 minute break, these are the things that make a difference in people's lives. The guy who puts his last dollar in the salvation army bucket at Christmas is a way more powerful version of giving than the rich movie star who writes a huge check because his publicist tells him to do it.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks he or she can't really make a difference?
People often say, "I can't make a difference" and I'm here to tell people that it's absolutely not true. Others say, "What's it gonna matter if I do something small?" and to that I say, "everything." If everyone did one thing, something, no matter how small, we could change the face of our country. Try it. Just do something that has an impact on someone else and do it well -- you will have a revelation. That's all I'm saying.