By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
I recently watched the movie The Blind Side on DVD, featuring the Oscar winning performance of Best Actress, Sandra Bullock. It was a very moving story about an affluent white family, the Tuohy’s, who took in a virtually homeless black student, Michael Ohr, and eventually adopted him. Throughout their relationship with him, the Touhy’s, including their son and daughter, really struggled to understand Michael’s past. After all, living in a wealthy neighborhood and enjoying “overpriced salads” for lunch kept this family, and much of affluent America, out of the gang-filled ghettos that “Big Mike” grew up in. These “two Americas,” as former U.S. Senator John Edwards might put it, really were worlds apart.The way that the family got to know Michael was through a unique opportunity. A man in Michael’s neighborhood saw some potential in him, both athletically and beyond. He took Michael and another boy to a private Christian school, one that only more affluent families could afford. The man convinces the football coach that “Big Mike” possessed natural athletic ability and could be a real asset to his team. After seeing Michael make a few moves on the basketball court, the coach was convinced of his athletic abilities and lobbied the headmaster and the admissions department to consider taking him in.This scene happens at the very beginning of the movie and there is an interesting conversation that ensues. While the football coach was originally persuaded because he wanted Michael on his football team, he makes an argument that it’s not fair that low-income families do not have the opportunity to attend this private Christian school that only the wealthy can afford. In addition to income, these families often have so many more obstacles in front of them, with their kids growing up in neighborhoods with higher crime rates and arguably, more distractions. It’s no wonder their grades suffer and they have higher drop-out rates.In the movie (based on the true story of NFL player Michael Ohr), the school did the “Christian” thing and accepted Michael into the school and financed a scholarship for him. This is where he eventually met the Tuohy family, who eventually took him in and invited him to be a part of their family, making sure he not only succeeded in athletics, but also in academics. The story of Mrs. Tuohy’s personal relationship with her newly adopted son is what earned Bullock the Academy Award.Today, more than 20,000 low-income families in Florida now have the same opportunity that Michael Ohr received as they take part in the Florida Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship program. While the program has plenty of statistics to offer to showcase its success (such as improving graduation rates and increasing college-bound students) there are individual stories behind each one of those numbers that could perhaps each tell a moving story. The Blind Side is just one story of what happens when underprivileged children get an opportunity they previously did not have. I’m glad to see that story is now critically acclaimed.