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25 Days of Sweetness

‘The Blind Side’s‘ Quinton Aaron provides hope and encouragement to students who are being bullied

His foundation addresses recidivism and issues within the criminal justice system

When the 2009 megahit movie The Blind Side hit the scene, two things happened. We found out about the life of offensive tackle Michael Oher, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers. And the world got acquainted with Quinton Aaron, who was cast in the role as Oher.

Aaron has since acted in several television dramas, including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and One Tree Hill. Now he’s starring in his second film, Halfway.

But his life off the screen includes helping kids overcome the horrors of bullying. The Quinton Aaron Foundation supports anti-bullying efforts to reduce serious and life-threatening effects of bullying on kids and teens at school and in their communities.

Aaron, once a victim of bullying, has a special place in his heart for children dealing with obesity and the effects of bullying. Aaron first experienced being bullied in 1990. It was then that he began thinking of ways to end the amount of terror he endured. He believed that if he could present ways to bring awareness to the issue, he could make a difference. He now shares his story and solutions with teachers, administrators, parents and children.

“Some obese children have to deal with more than just losing their excess weight,” the organization’s website reads. “They are also teased at school, often unmercifully, because of their obesity. Over time, this taunting can take an emotional toll on any youngster, particularly as they lose friends and self-esteem. Some of these children eventually dread going to school at all. In fact, research shows that children who are bullied are more likely to skip going to class; some even drop out of school altogether. In many cases, this taunting escalates with time. As it intensifies, these children may become terrified, even fearing for their physical safety.”

For more than four years, Aaron and members of the organization have traveled the globe in search of opportunities to save the lives of at-risk children affected by bullying, which can become life-threatening.

Aaron says his character’s experiences in Halfway are relatable to some instances in his life. The movie, which premiered on the Urban Movie Channel (UMC) on April 21, tells the story of Byron (played by Aaron), a recently released convict who finds himself trapped between his criminal past and his new life on probation as the only black man in a conservative white Wisconsin farming town. Physically imposing yet socially reserved, Byron struggles to adjust to a family riven with problems and a world far beyond his comfort zone.

The drama puts a human face to a national crisis: America’s broken justice system and the overall conflict of race relations within the nation. Meanwhile, Aaron, through his efforts in the community, brings awareness to bullying and obesity and provides young children the tools to stand up and speak out.

Aaron spoke with The Undefeated about The Quinton Aaron Foundation, his new role in Halfway, his recent rededication to Christ and more.

How did you land your role in the new film Halfway?

Through mutual acquaintances. A friend of mine who I did a movie for, his name’s Tommy Oliver, he worked with the producer of Halfway on one of his projects that he did a couple years back that I was a part of, then the producer reached out to Tommy to get a hold of me. We met, and then they pitched me the project and the rest was history. I was, like, down from the jump.

How does this role differ from any other roles that you’ve done?

The Blind Side was a big thing for me. The issues in that film, and the story they were trying to portray, also was something that I was interested in. I just like to be a part of stories that have messages or raise awareness on things that people may not be privy to.

What is the most compelling storyline of Halfway?

It’s about racism and recidivism. In my opinion, I think it’s also a story about chances, about choices and second chances. Because my character, he’s someone who did some bad in his past and he went to prison for it, but through a favor of his stepbrother, he was released on probation. And as a favor to his stepbrother, he had to do his probation on the family farm in Wisconsin.

So the movie speaks about that. Sometimes our lives are dictated by the choices that we decide to make, so that alone was a concept that I wanted to push, as far as this film, because not a lot of people take advantage of their second-chance opportunities and they do something that lands them back in trouble. I know for the most part, young African-American men and minority men in general don’t really get many opportunities. Once they’re a felon, or once they get out of prison, there’s not a lot that they can do because no one really gives them a chance to turn their lives around and get a job. So then they kind of almost fall back into that same slump of trying to make money the way they know how, and then getting arrested and going back to jail, which brings in the recidivism.

Is there anything about your character, Byron, that reminds you of yourself in any way?

I definitely can relate to the fact that he lost his mother. My mom passed before I did The Blind Side, so there was a relation there, and then the ‘fish out of water’ is nothing new to me. I’ve been in situations before where it’s completely new to me, but I’m not as closed off as he is. I’m open-minded. I’ll jump into the deep end and see what’s there and go explore, and his character, he kind of didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to do it, but he was forced to.

How has acting changed your life?

Acting has definitely been a blessing to me for some time. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and I thank God every day for my opportunity to do so, because I’m living my dream. You know, from a very young age I wanted to be an actor. I used to always tell my mom I was going to be the first black James Bond.

I wanted to do something in movies growing up. I wanted to play a cop, or a spy, or an action hero, you know, stuff like that. It’s cool because it’s a job where you have your imagination, and for me acting was a chance for me to make my dreams, or my imaginations, come to life.

How old were you?

Oh, man, this goes back to when maybe I was 5 or 6 and I was trying to be Batman. I had my Batman phase, my Ninja Turtle phase. Then my favorite movies, I would imitate them all day.

You just got baptized last Sunday. What made you make that transition?

It was a rededication of my faith. I grew up in the church, and I was baptized first at the age of 9. But as a child, it’s not really something you choose to do, it’s your grandparents or whoever tells you you’re going to get baptized. That’s just what it is.

But this is my step as an adult, fully knowing what it is and what it entails and deciding to make that choice for myself.

Who is the inspirational person in your life?

Definitely my mom. My mom was my biggest inspiration. She was my best friend, my hero, and she’s the reason why I am where I am today.

How did you get into anti-bullying?

It was something that I was familiar with from my days growing up in school. I was bullied a lot all through elementary school. I got picked on in P.E. because, instead of playing sports, I was the kid that was more into drama and chorus. I wore glasses, crooked teeth. I was the glutton for punishment, I guess. I wasn’t popular, and then you grow up in a rough neighborhood in the Bronx. I’ve been through a lot of it. Just realizing the platform that I was given from The Blind Side, I found myself being in front of a bunch of kids, and often I would get asked about bullying and how I dealt with it.

It was funny, because when I first started speaking to kids, it was about following your dreams and not being afraid to go after what you want in life, and trying to inspire them and encourage them to go after their goals. And when kids would ask me about bullying, I thought somebody had looked me up or whatever. I was like, ‘How do you know that? How did you know that I was bullied?’ Then I figured, why not speak about my experiences and how I got over them? Because it could motivate or hopefully inspire kids to do the same.

What do you tell kids now?

Definitely the same thing: Always go for your dreams. You’ve got one life to live. You definitely want to give it your all and make the most out of it. You’re going to face a lot of negative people in your life. You’re going to face a lot of people who don’t have the same mindset or goals or aspirations as you, but you can’t let it throw you off your game. You have to go after what you want.

The main important thing I tell kids is that school is only temporary. It’s a fraction of your life, and there’s no reason to get all bent out of shape because of kids that don’t like you in school, because once you graduate and you’re no longer in school, you never have to see them ever again. A lot of kids don’t know that, especially with cyberbullying going on today in social media. There are too many kids ending their lives because of what’s going on with them in school, and it’s not the rest of your life. You’re making a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion. I do what I do because I hopefully want to put an end to that.

Are there other roles you’d like to do?

I’m working with my team to develop my own projects. I definitely see myself having my own production company and putting together my own tunes and stuff.

I guess my five-year plan would probably be to have a few of my own projects out there for the world to see. I don’t know. The thing is to be blessed to do what I love and serve God.

But there are roles that I won’t do, like any type of domestic abuse roles. I’m not a fan of putting my hands on women. I grew up witnessing that happen to my mom, and I’m not a fan of guys that believe in doing that, so that’s a role that I will never play.

I don’t mind doing comedy. I want to do some action, some more drama, not opposed to doing romantic comedies.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.