A year and a half ago, Gervell Morgan told his track coach at Signal Mountain High School that after living in 10 foster homes since he was 4 he would no longer have a place to stay because he was turning 18.
Morgan and his coach, Beverly Blackwell, weren’t particularly close.
“It was a typical coach-athlete relationship,” Blackwell would say later.
But she took him in, offering what she said was a stable home. In the next year, he received a football scholarship to play linebacker for Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Thursday night, Blackwell got to meet the woman whose similar experiences had encouraged her when she was helping Morgan.
Before Morgan left for college, he, Blackwell, her husband and their three children watched “The Blind Side” together. The movie chronicles the story of a wealthy family in Memphis who adopted Michael Oher, a homeless student at a private school who later would be drafted in the NFL in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.
As Blackwell took photos with and shook the hand of Leigh Anne Tuohy, who had become the mother of Oher, Tuohy said, “Sometimes, it’s good for kids to look up at the screen and see that there is hope.”
Tuohy was invited to speak at a fundraising event Thursday night by the Mountain Education Foundation on Signal Mountain. Mike Taylor, who organized the event, said that he expected it to raise about $160,000 to support Signal Mountain public schools. The foundation paid Tuohy about $20,000 and paid about $10,000 for food.
The event was the first in a series celebrating the Mountain Education Foundation’s 20 years of supporting public schools.
Tuohy told the audience what it was like having journalist Michael Lewis live with her family for 18 months before he wrote a New York Times best-seller. She described what it was like to have that book turn into a movie with Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar for her performance as Tuohy.
About attending the Oscars, Tuohy said, “When I tell you we looked like ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ gone to Hollywood, I kid you not.”
She also told the audience of about 800 that it’s important to notice the children who are ignored.
“The takeaway is this: A kid that got off the bus at the busiest intersection in Memphis every day, and if Michael Oher had fallen on the sidewalk dead, no one would’ve cared,” she said. “But if you take him in your home and offer him the basic necessities of hope, love and opportunity, he’s able to succeed.”
Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...