As the 29-year-old actor walks through the auditorium at the Academy of Richmond County, where he spent his freshman and sophomore years, his presence dominates. Aaron towers over the aisles of wooden seats and scattered piles of theater equipment. No one else even comes close matching his size. It’s easy to see why he was selected to play the role of football player Michael Jerome Oher in the 2009 movie The Blind Side.
But Aaron still remembers being chased home and beaten by other elementary students. He was too afraid to ride the school bus in middle school, having family members drive him to his classes so he could avoid the taunting he would endure otherwise. The abuse has affected him most of his life.
“I’ve gone through it, the same as almost everyone,” Aaron said. “Even the people that haven’t been bullied see the end results of it. Every time we see a school shooting or a teen suicide, we see what escalation of bullying can do.”
Aaron said he worries many of the ARC students now asking him for autographs and pictures have experienced, or will experience, similar things. So he is visiting several Augusta area schools hoping to help others.
“So many kids will go through this in their lives and many will be without the right kind of support to make it through these experiences,” Quinton said. “They may end taking their own lives or the lives of others. No one should ever be pushed to that point.”
Aaron is representing the Quinton Aaron Foundation, a charitable organization that works to eliminate school bullying and fight childhood obesity. For the rest of this week Aaron will join with Richmond County school employees, law enforcement officials and high school art programs to discuss the effects of bullying and to support development of fine arts programs in Augusta schools.
The activities were funded by a grant obtained by ARC Choral Director Mollie Baldwin and ARC Drama Director Roy Lewis.
“When we got the grant, we started to look to see what kind of activities we could do that would send a message to kids,” Baldwin said. “We contacted the executive director of Aaron’s foundation, and we learned about what the organization was doing. It tied right in with some of the other work our kids were doing. They just ran with it. I was beside myself when he wanted to come to us.”
Most of Aaron’s activities in the coming days will involve Richmond County school fine arts programs. Aaron worked with Baldwin on a school production featuring the ARC string orchestra, choir, jazz band and drama groups. It premiered Tuesday. He also will participate in a film project by the students examining the effects of bullying on teenagers.
Baldwin has known Aaron since 1999, when he was an ARC student. She considers Aaron’s anti-bullying message “a godsend.”
“This is the message children need to be hearing. They need to learn how to treat others like they want to be treated,” Baldwin said. “People need to live the kind of life where they can look at themselves in the mirror every day and feel good about themselves. If you can do that, you can get through anything.”
Asia Jennings, 16, who spoke briefly with Aaron after performing her original monologue, called Aaron’s visit “a blessing.”
“This helps students. There’s a lot of drama we go through during this point of our lives,” Jennings said. “He’s a public figure and he can use that to spread the love. It’s an inspiration to other students.”
Today, Aaron will speak at Warren Road Elementary and attend a town hall meeting at ARC.
On Thursday, he will speak to the ARC student body.