The Blind Side Actor Brings Anti-Bullying Message to Saint Leo

January 28, 2015

It was fitting that actor Quinton Aaron (pictured) brought his anti-bullying campaign to Saint Leo University on Tuesday, January 27, as the university is founded on a core value of respect—one of six core values.

Aaron, famous for his portrayal of “Big Mike,” Michael Oher in the movie The Blind Side, formed the Quinton Aaron Foundation in 2012 with David Tyler, who serves as executive director of the nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating bullying. Aaron and Tyler spoke to a crowd of nearly 300 in the Greenfelder-Denlinger Boardrooms of the Student Community Center. The event was sponsored by Saint Leo University Office of Residence Life and the Quinton Aaron Foundation as part of its Bully Prevention Lecture Series.

“Bullying is a trend,” Aaron, 30, and 6 feet 8 inches, said. “It shouldn’t be a trend, but it is. I’ve experienced bullying a lot growing up. I don’t get bullied anymore. I’m bigger, stronger, and more handsome.”

As a youngster, Aaron said he was tall, skinny, had a big forehead, “and the same crooked teeth,” and wore “big binoculars for glasses.”

He was called every name in the book, and he said he did not know how to defend himself. “I was chased; I was beat up,” he said. “And in the third grade, one time, I got beat up by a girl.”

His mother was his support system. “There’s nothing these kids can say to you that holds any truth,” she advised him. “Show it doesn’t affect you.”

Aaron grew (and grew and grew). And he learned to defend himself. “I tell parents to get their kids involved in self-defense [classes],” he said. But he advised parents to discipline their children if they start a fight.

A Saint Leo faculty member asked Aaron for advice on techniques to get children to open up to their parents. “Know that when there is a certain look on their face, that something is wrong,” he said. “My mother was persistent. She said, ‘we do not keep secrets,’ to get me to tell her what was wrong.”

Dallas Payne, 8, with a little help from his mom, Lucy, asked what elementary-aged children can do about bullying. Aaron advised that it was OK to be a “tattletale” and to step in and be strong if you see bullying. He told Dallas that if someone is making fun of you, “it is not personal.”

“Say to them, ‘I’d appreciate you don’t say that again.’ If they do say it again, go to the teacher.”

Saint Leo education students asked Aaron what they as teachers could do to make their students comfortable to come to them if they are being picked on or witness bullying. He advised teachers to talk to the students and be personable. “Relate to them,” he said.

Students and others in attendance downloaded the CensorOut app to their cellphones at Aaron’s encouragement. The app, now only available for Instagram, allows users to block out negative comments. It also allows parents or guardians to know “what is said, who said it, and when it was said,” Aaron added.

Aaron’s appearance was not the only anti-bullying event recently hosted by Saint Leo University. On Saturday, January 24, the Saint Leo Department of Education hosted The Bull’s Eye on Bullying regional conference in Ocala, FL. Victoria DiNatale, (pictured) founder of Standing Victorious and a former bullying victim, and Dr. Claudio Cerullo, associate professor of education and founder of the National Teaching Anti-Bullying Foundation were featured.

Denise Skarbek, a Saint Leo professor of exceptional student education, presented an overview of signs for preventing suicide.

For information about the Quinton Aaron Foundation, go to http://quintonaaron.org/ or call (813) 712-9261.