Quinton Aaron, Star of the Blind Side, Helps Kids Beat the Odds
For those of you who’ve seen The Blind Side (and who hasn’t by now?), you know it’s the story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who beat the odds to become an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick.
The character was played by Quinton Aaron, who also beat the odds to get the part – Aaron was working as a security guard, unable to pay his rent, and on the verge of homelessness when he landed the starring role. Now he shares his story with students as a spokesman for the Beating the Odds Foundation, (a partner of the NEA Foundation) which works to inspire young people to reach their full potential in life.
NEA Today Express caught up with Aaron to ask him about his breakout role in The Blind Side and his dedication to young people.
How did you first find out about the role?
My mom, rest her soul, submitted my name for the audition. She was my acting manager. She read what size they were looking for, and told me this was it, this role was mine.
How are you and Michael Oher alike?
He was a gentle giant, like me. He didn’t have a lot of friends, and stayed to himself, like me. We’re both big dudes, but quiet, and neither of us wanted any trouble, even though our size made us look tougher than we were.
I also grew up in poverty, and struggled all my life. I always wanted to do something different, to lift myself up. I always wanted to be an actor, but everyone doubted me. They’d say, “You’re 610, 300-plus pounds! There’s no work for you as an actor!” They told me to keep my job in security. But entertainment was something I wanted to do forever. Now I’m living out my dream, just like Oher got to live his.
What appealed to you about the role?
The message. That no matter how hard your life was growing up, you can’t let it discourage you from following your dreams. Nothing is impossible. You can still be a movie star, or a doctor. You can still become great. It’s a good message for kids, but also for adults who shouldn’t give up on a kid just because of his current situation.
Why did you become involved with the Beating the Odds Foundation?
The organization has celebrity spokesmen and women who’ve been through hard times in their lives, but still followed their dreams, and they tell kids today that they can do the same thing. I thought that sounded like a great thing to do. So many kids drop out of school, get in trouble, land themselves in jail, or wind up dead, because think they have to make easy money or live a fast life just because of their current situation. They think things will never get better for them. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be part of an organization that allows you to tell people your story and help encourage them to follow their dreams.
What’s the story you tell young people?
I grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York City, but I never became a product of my environment. There were lots of kids who wanted to hang on the block and be about the street life, but they weren’t my friends. I’d walk by them to go to church or go to work, but I’d never hang outside and kick it with them.
That’s what I tell kids who are living in poor neighborhoods. I tell them to surround themselves with kids going in the right direction. It was hard for me, too. We didn’t always have food to eat, but we made do with what we had, and I never lost faith that I’d make it out some day.
What is your message about education?
It’s simple. You need a diploma. You need to graduate. The stuff you want to do -- like sing, or act, or play football, or basketball -- may not pan out. And if you don’t have an education, then you don’t have a Plan B. You’ll have to go back to school to finish something you should have done as a kid. I always tell kids to stay in school. It might not be fun now, but it’s way better than trying to go back.
What was school like for you?
It was hard. I didn’t really like school, back in the day. I was talked about more than I was liked. But because of some great teachers, it got better, and I stuck it out.
Who was one of your favorite teachers?
Sherry Puryear was my chorus teacher. She was a blessing, not only music-wise, but spiritually as well. I had hard times in high school, and I could always talk to her, and she’d help me out. She always had the answer, and she never tripped about anything.
How can teachers today help kids who are struggling?
Tell kids about yourself, and why you became a teacher. If you’ve had struggles, share them, and tell them how you got to where you are today. It’s the same as The Blind Side. After they see the movie, kids are inspired to do what they can to succeed, and they’ll do the same for you. If they hear your story, and hear what you overcame, they’ll be inspired to try to succeed -- for themselves, and for you. If you open up to them, your kids will respect you for it. And if they feel that you’re dedicated to helping them, and see that you are there for a deeper purpose, they’ll be inspired to do their best.
To hear more of Quinton Aaron's inspirational story, and to purchase the DVD along with ten additional Quarterbacks of Life® stories, visit www.beatingtheodds.org and click on DVD Order Form under "Contact." Cost: $19.95 plus $4.00 shipping and handling.