By McClatchy-Tribune News Services
Published: April 29, 2011
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It’s been seven years since the wealthy, white Tuohy family took in a poor, black, gentle giant of a homeless teenager named Michael Oher.
It’s been five years since their story was featured in a best-selling book, two years since it hit the big screen in the movie “The Blind Side,” and one since Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for playing the family’s fiery, shoot-from-the-hip matriarch.
New chapters continue to be written in the ongoing story of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and their adopted son, the hulking left tackle and former first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
These days, Leigh Anne Tuohy divides her time between Oher’s football games; her biological son and daughter; the Memphis Grizzlies games that her husband, Sean, covers for the NBA team’s radio network; a new gig as an interior decorator on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”; running the Making It Happen foundation she started with her husband; and speaking engagements.
“It’s almost comical what we try to squeeze into 24 hours,” Tuohy said from her Memphis home, where she’d just returned from 18 days on the road shooting “Makeover.”
She is hard-pressed to explain just how a simple act of kindness — taking in the teenage Oher on a cold winter night in 2004 — turned into such a complicated but rewarding life. Before he came along, the Tuohys had their hands full with their kids and careers. She’s been an interior decorator for 28 years; he runs a chain of 82 fast-food restaurants.
“I believe it’s God-driven,” the religious Tuohy said. “You should see our carport. There’s a big sign over it that says, ‘We Believe in Miracles.’ That’s the only way to explain how this story has gotten where it is.”
How it all began
It started when the Tuohys saw Oher walking down the street on a cold night. He was wearing the same clothes he always wore — and no coat. The family invited him to spend the night on their couch. The nights melted into weeks, then months, before the family adopted him.
The story is familiar to anyone who’s seen the Disney movie, which took some liberties with the truth. And it’s become a springboard for causes close to the Tuohys’ hearts, including adoption.
“We’re seeing the needle move on foster care adoption, more than it has since probably 1940,” Tuohy said.
She’s blunt about the nation’s priorities. She asserts: “We’re more focused on … animal shelters than children in this country.”
“We’ve chosen to focus on the wrong things. I think that’s an awful testament in this country. We don’t take care of our own first. There are kids that go hungry and sleep in horrible places. I have a child that went through that. I didn’t see it on the screen or in a book. I lived it.”
Tuohy has become an outspoken advocate because she’s learned from that experience.
“You take a kid in, give them a little hope and basic necessities. It’ll change their lives,” she said. “They haven’t led the same charmed life a lot of us have led.
”We’ve had Michael 10 years, but it’s still, ‘I’ll beat your butt if you don’t do this.’ It’s 10 steps forward and 15 back, but it’s worth it.”
Making things happen
The Tuohys use the money earned from speaking engagements to help fund the Making It Happen Foundation, which was started in response to requests they’d received for advice on helping disadvantaged kids. The foundation is raising money for adoptions and dishes out up to $1,000 for various projects, such as field trips for schools in poor neighborhoods.
The Tuohys wrote a book, “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving,” which made The New York Times’ best-seller list, to spread the word. Oher, 24, who’ll go into his third NFL season, told his story to sports writer Dan Yaeger for a recent book, “I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond.”