This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 5, 2013 - You might not think someone the size of “The Blind Side” character Michael Oher would have a problem with bullying. But Quinton Aaron, who played Michael to Sandra Bullock’s Leigh Anne Tuohy in the 2009 Academy Award-winning film based on a true story, was once afraid to walk home from school.
Now 28, Aaron is telling his story with the launch of the Quinton Aaron Foundation’s 31-city Anti-Bullying Tour. On Sunday, April 7, the tour stops in St. Louis for a bowling event at AMF Dick Weber Lanes in Florissant.
Area students, those who work with kids, and anyone who’s interested can sign up to bowl alongside Aaron, who will also be available for casual questions. The event will also feature an information table offering fundraising raffle tickets for a Honda Fury motorcycle or $10,000.
Actors addressing bullying is becoming a popular tool against kids taunting other kids. Next week, the Beacon will examine cyber-bullying and the play “Winning Juliet,” a Shakespeare Festival St. Louis production that shows how Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be used to inflict profound and even fatal damage.
The bullying Aaron endured more than a decade ago was delivered not with pictures and words but with punches and kicks. He talked with the Beacon about his stressful early years in Augusta, Ga., his single mother’s intervention and the goals for his new foundation.
The Beacon: When and how were you bullied?
Quinton Aaron: In elementary school, I was this tall, skinny kid with glasses and crooked teeth. I was chased home from school and beat up by other kids.
My mom was able to tell when something was wrong even if I didn’t tell her. When I’d get beat up or pushed around at school, she’d come to the school and the principal would call the other kid to the office. She was very hands-on and involved, which is how we want our parents to be today.
Did the bullying stop at some point?
Aaron: When I was 12, my mom put me in self-defense training classes, Taekwondo, so I could learn how to defend myself when she wasn’t around.
When someone was attacking, I learned how to fend them off. I would make them use a lot of energy for nothing. It was more of a counter-offensive. Once they saw that, they stopped.
In high school, there were only a couple of knuckleheads that wanted to cross me but everyone else was cool with me. In high school, I was the biggest kid. By the time I was in the ninth grade, I was 6-foot-4 and and 320 pounds and wore a size 17 shoes. I was bigger than all the seniors on the football field.
Other than as your character in “The Blind Side," did you play football?
Aaron: A little. But I had no desire to play sports in school; I wasn’t really into it. I was into drama. I was in a couple of plays in high school. I was more of a supporting actor, in the background, one-liners. I was shy; I had a low self-esteem through the school years.
What do you hope to achieve with the foundation?
Aaron: We want to create a team called the Quinton Aaron Club. Each school can have one. Students within the club can interact with me, and I’ll do one or two Skype calls a month to the class. They can ask me questions, and I’ll answer them.
I tell the kids they also have a responsibility within their school, which is to report any acts of bullying that they see. Instead of playing the hero, they should tell the principal.
What about cyber-bullying?
Aaron: We try to get the kids to pay attention to what they say online. We tell them it makes no difference what’s on the internet about you. It’s just a cowardly act to try and get a response out of you.
We encourage them to put their focus where it better suits them, being at school and taking advantage of everything that’s at their fingertips, to be what they want to be. I say that to each and every kid. I don’t just single out the kids that are being bullied, because we want to show everyone that we care for them all.
At the end of the day, I realize I’m in a position where they would like to be one day, whether it’s in acting or sports or some sort of business. I let them know I didn’t get here by being a pushover or being a bully.