Sunday, November 25, 2012

Don't ever allow yourself to feel trapped by your choices. Take a look at yourself. You are a unique person created for a specific purpose. Your gifts matter. Your story matters. Your dreams matter. You matter.

In 2009 I was a senior at Elizabethtown. I was student teaching, working and writing my senior thesis. In addition, my long lost father was about to make a sudden and dramatic entrance into my life. That however, is a complicated story for another day. So when "The Blind Side" was released in theaters, heading to the movies was really low on my priority list. By the time I remembered that I really wanted to see it, it was already out of theaters. After that well, you know how it is, things kept coming up and I never got around to watching it.

Regardless, it always hung around at the back of my mind because I love a good underdog story. I find that it is so easy to be inspired by the Michael Ohers of the world, and everyone needs some inspiration. Soon after the movie was released, I began to hear people talking about the accuracy of it, and I concluded that I wouldn't see it until I read the book. Then life got in the way again. It wasn't until a couple of months ago that I was reminded yet again that I was missing out.

My reminder came in an unexpected form. In a school where most of the students struggle with academics, one student recommended that I read a book. Not just any book, Michael Oher's autobiography I Beat the Odds. This student told me that I should read it because Michael's life reminded him of his own. In an attempt to get to know these students, some of whom live in circumstances that most can't even imagine, I took the book from the student and began to read.
I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of reading non-fiction unless it serves a specific purpose. I tend to associate it with college papers and tedium, and try to stay away. This book grabbed me from the very beginning. It was a story about a young boy who realized very early on that in order to change your circumstances, you have to take charge of your own life. Oher encourages the readers of his book to surround themselves with positive influences, because it really does matter whose company you keep. This boy, whose mother is a crack addict and who has approximately a dozen siblings, was never told "I love you," but somehow learned to recognize it anyway.

Now that I have both read the book and seen the movie, I can recognize that "The Blind Side" did get some things wrong. Michael Oher was never stupid, and at times I believe that the movie portrayed him that way. He simply couldn't stay at a school long enough to receive a quality education. He also didn't need help learning plays, he had been dissecting plays in baseball, basketball and football since he was very young. Sports had always been an outlet for was not something that was introduced to him in high school.

One thing the movie did get right? The goodness, generosity and loving nature of the Tuohy family. If you want to aspire to be like anyone, that is the family to look up to. I know that I learned a thing or two from Leigh Ann Tuohy's tenacity. I hope that when I have a family someday that I can raise my children the way that they raised theirs, to be accepting and open minded.

Michael Oher fights to be a role model for children living in the same circumstances as he did when he was a child in Memphis. The last chapter of his book was written as a guide for those children. He writes that he hopes that teachers and foster parents and social workers will copy that last chapter and give it to their kids, to show them that there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but that to reach it, you have to work harder than most. That is perhaps the most inspiring thing about Michael Oher: his ingrained knowledge that in order to change your situation, you have to be proactive. You have to DO SOMETHING about it.

I encourage all of my students to read I Beat the Odds. "I've seen the movie" is not an acceptable response, because the movie does not emphasize how truly hard Oher had to fight to "get out of the ghetto." I cried in my office as I was finishing that book. Not because it was sad, but because finally, someone is speaking out about what it takes to pick yourself up out of the ghetto and fight your way to success.

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