TAMPA — "In our house, we believe that the kid with the cure for cancer is walking around in inner city Memphis or Tampa or New York," said Leigh Anne Tuohy, the mother whose story inspired the book and movie The Blind Side.
"All they need is hope, love and opportunity," she explained to the 2,600 who attended the Metropolitan Ministries' Bridge Builders Benefit at the David A Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night.
Tuohy shared her story with the audience about how she and her husband took in a homeless teen in Memphis named Michael Oher, who now plays right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.
She said two words changed her whole life. One Thanksgiving as her family was driving home, they passed Oher on the street. "Turn around," she said then.
After the Tuohy's took Oher in, he graduated high school and went on to play football for the University of Mississippi. He was drafted to the NFL in 2009.
"Society had placed zero value in this child," she said. "But God told us to turn around."
She marveled at the work of Metropolitan Ministries, a social service organization founded in the 1970s by 13 local churches to aid the homeless and hungry.
The ministries currently house 50 families that include 90 children and feed hundreds more, said Tim Marks, the organization's chief operating officer.
"This is a unique organization," Tuohy explained. "We don't have anything like Metropolitan Ministries in Memphis. … If we did, I don't think Michael could have slipped through the cracks if he had a place like this to go to."
Tuohy had some choice words about Oher's teammate, Raven quarterback Joe Flacco, whom she called a tattletale.
"He went whining to Michael about how I told him he takes to long to throw the ball," she said.
She stressed that the book and movie have given her the opportunity to share how God has blessed her family.
The mother of two — three if you add Oher — encouraged the crowd to get active in their communities however they can.
"Adopting a 6-foot-6, 300-pound black kid isn't for everyone," she said.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.