Ray McElrathbey's story is the heartwarming tale we need right now.
The real-life hero who inspired Disney's new sports drama "Safety" has opened up about the mixed emotions that comes with sharing his incredible journey.
Chatting with TooFab, Ray McElrathbey revealed his thoughts on having a movie made about his struggle as a Clemson University football player trying to raise his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr, after their mother was sent away for drug rehabilitation.
"I feel amazing," Ray, now 34, began. "I'm excited about the fanfare that comes along with it. I'm glad so many people are being touched by the movie and I'm excited to see what happens next."
As for his involvement with the film, Ray said he was there "at every turn."
"I didn't get to choose anybody, but I got to put my two cents in every now and again," he admitted, "Even at directing scenes, the director always asked me if I had something, if I needed to contribute something I wanted to be seen that hasn't been seen or shown that hasn't been shown. So, I was heavily involved and I'm grateful for that experience."
The movie, which takes place around 2006, didn't stray too far from the incredible true story, according to Ray.
"Real life seemed a little bit harder," he said with a smile. "It wasn't too many deviations from real life as opposed to what was in the movie. Maybe some added characters, but not necessarily added in situations, due to how, you know, getting someone's rights is concerned. We had to make some necessary changes. Things went pretty much as it was in the movie. There was a few deviations depending on when they said I moved -- it was kind of a question about when I moved on and off campus, but just stuff like that. It wasn't huge for the most part."
After Ray began getting attention for his story back in college, he found the most rewarding part was raising awareness about drug addiction.
"More now than then, I guess in 2006, there are a lot of people that are dealing with addiction and are a lot more open about talking about addiction," he explained. "And a lot of people came to me during those times because I talked about my mom and her addiction and how I don't resent her for it and -- just like my father -- I don't resent them for their struggles, they're human beings. And I would feel terrible if someone held me based on the worst days of my life. And just made an assumption about my character based on some of the worst days of my life."
"And during those times they were some of the worst days of her life" he said of his mom. "She was going through a struggle because addiction is a disease and a lot of people don't know that. They think it's just some, it's a choice. It's not necessarily a choice for a lot of them. And I think that just having the people come up to me and talk to me about addiction was kind of the most, I guess, influential part for me. Cause I know this, I know the feeling, I know the feeling of having addictive parents and then I was a kid and I didn't know any better and it pissed me off."
"I couldn't stand my father for a while," he confessed. "I didn't want to talk to my mother for a while because I was stupid. And it hurts talking about it right now sometimes. Cause that's some of the things I would want to go back and change. Just the feeling. Cause a lot of times I didn't even voice this feeling to them."
Ray then got very emotional talking about not being able to share the good news of the movie with his father, who passed away in 2018.
"It's sad that they don't get to see this moment when everything is okay," he explained through tears. "And sometimes it makes me sad to be happy. Cause I know there are a lot of other people who don't get to share this moment with me and it's hard to share this moment because they were a part of it and then not a part of it now."
His relationship with his mother, Tonya, however, has strengthened over time as the pair, with the help of Fahmarr, are currently working together on Safety Net Foundation, which helps families at risk of being split up due to mental health issues and drug abuse.