Quinton Aaron doesn’t look as if he could ever have been the target of bullies. After all, at 6-feet-8-inches, he is a sizeable presence.
These days, he also carries the added aura of being a charismatic actor who landed a breakthrough role in “The Blind Side.”
The movie depicted the story of Michael Oher, the Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman who was adopted when he was a homeless teenager and went on to become a first-round draft choice in the National Football League.
Life was different, though, Aaron said, when he was a skinny youth, with a big forehead and “binocular” looking glasses.
At that point, the actor said, other students often physically and verbally abused him.
And now, he’s determined that other students not suffer the way that he did.
In 2012, the actor started the Quinton Aaron Foundation to focus on anti-bullying and childhood obesity.
Last week he took his anti-bullying program to Saint Leo University where he spoke to a standing room only crowd of nearly 300 people at the Student Community Center.
His foundation and the university’s Office of Residence Life, as part of its Bully Prevention Lecture Series, sponsored the event.
Aaron, who lives in Pasco County, plans to take his program into local schools.
He’s also promoting a free mobile application – CensorOut – that can block hateful messages from being seen by students on social media sites. It is available to Instagram users, but within a month will also be usable with Facebook and Twitter.
“We want to blast this out to the country,” Aaron said.
CensorOut monitors for pre-programmed and self-programmed words or phrases. If hateful messages are posted online, repeat messages can be blocked from being posted. Parents can receive email notification and the message also will be saved as proof of what was said and who sent it.
“It allows kids to stop being bullied and parents to see what these kids are saying,” Aaron said.
Aaron asked the crowd to load the app and many audience members took out their smartphones and did.
“Anything with social media is a great way to get through to kids,” said Kayla Bryant, 19, who plans to become a public school teacher.
“I think it is amazing that he is using his popularity for such a cause. Most adults don’t want to talk about it,” said Bryant, a sophomore at Saint Leo, who herself was bullied in second grade through ninth grade.
The bullying stopped, she said, when “I stood up for myself. I encourage other people to do the same.”
Dade City resident Lucy Payne brought her 8-year-old son, Dallas Payne, and five foster children to Aaron’s presentation. She is past president of the Pasco County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.
Children get bullied for all kinds of reasons, Payne said. The clothes that they wear, their speech, or just the way they look can make them targets for meanness, she added. “I see what goes on: It’s getting them past that.”
David Tyler, the foundation’s executive director, collected contact information from people interested in internships or part-time work with the foundation.
Tyler met Aaron two years ago in Tampa. He previously worked for actor Danny Glover.
Aaron and Tyler kicked off the anti-bullying program more than two years ago with a 45-day national tour to 66 cities and 32 states. They focused on high schools and middle schools.
Aaron was able to get students to open up about their problems by telling them about his experiences.
During his middle school growth spurt, Aaron shot up to 6-feet-4-inches, weighed more than 300 pounds and wore size 17 shoes.
He also had moved from New York to Augusta, Georgia, and didn’t fit in with the popular crowd.
His mother frequently visited his school to complain to administrators and teachers that school bullies beat and verbally abused her son.
She enrolled him in self-defense classes, and she gave him advice.
“There’s nothing that kid can say that can hold anything,” she told him. “What you have to do is show it doesn’t affect you because it shouldn’t affect you.”
Aaron encourages people to be proactive in standing up to bullies.
“Be vocal in your school,” he said. “I don’t care if you are called a tattle-tale. I just want ya’ll to protect yourselves and spread the word.”
Published February 4, 2015