TEDxUCLA 2017: Gravity

The domino effect


About Thaddeus

A former football player for the University of Florida and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thaddeus Bullard has become a fixture on WWE’s programming, including RAW and Smackdown, as WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil. Since his debut with WWE in 2012, O’Neil has made an impact both in and out of the ring as a business and family man, motivational speaker, youth counselor and coach.


Well hello! I almost didn’t make it here today. I mean I literally almost did not make it here today. But there were some very pivotal events that happened early on in my life, like some very key people that gave me the opportunity to be standing on this stage here today.

One of them, my mom, well she, she knows this. The other was a man that told me something at 12 years old. He probably does not.

So today I’m going to tell you about a story of making it a positive impact and how you could, can, or probably have already done so. I call this impact the domino effect.

So my name is Thaddeus Bullard. Some of you may know me as WWE superstar Titus O’Neil.

My mother gave birth to me at 12 years old. Yes, you heard me correctly. My mother gave birth to me at 12 years old. You see, I stand before you as a product of a rape. My mother is my hero. She had four boys. Three of the four are college graduates. She is the proud grandmother of my two sons, T.J. And Titus, and they are all here in attendance today, so you’re more than welcome to give them a round of applause.

So the other man that is not here, Mr. Pat Minogue, worked at a place called the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch which I had the opportunity to attend. It’s a place that kids go that have troubled youth, or they’re troubled youth.

And so one day I got in trouble again and Mr. Minogue came into the office, he’d say, you know, “Why do you think it is that you always get in trouble?” And I said, “I don’t know man. I’m just a bad kid.”

You know, you got to remember I had accepted this fact that I was a bad kid because I was told that I’d be dead or in jail before I was 16 years old my entire young adult life. And so I had consumed my thoughts that I would be a bad kid.

And he looked at me and he said, “Don’t ever say that again.” He said, “There’s no such thing as a bad kid.” I said, “How can you say there is no such thing as a bad kid?” And he said, “I’m not going to tell you the answer to that right now. As you get older, you’ll figure it out. But look at me. I want to tell you this: I love you, and I believe in you.”

I love you and I believe in you.

Now at this moment, these are some of the most positive words that I had ever heard in my life. And you’ve got to remember I come from a fatherless home. I was a very underperforming student. I had a major major issue with my anger and controlling it.

And some would say, “Well why would he say this to me?” And I figured it out. This man understood the power of being able to impart positive words into someone’s life and how it can make a difference in their lives.

And so now I’ve mentored hundreds of kids. And now that I’m older, I understand why he said that there is no such thing as a bad kid. You see if you take that same “bad kid” that’s in that bad environment around those bad influences making those bad decisions and you put them in a good environment around good people, they’ll have a better chance to make a better decision. Therefore their path to success will be greater. That’s what happened for me.

Now I’m pretty sure that you know there are people from all races here today, backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions. But I’m here to tell you this firsthand if somebody has never told you before. You have the power, literally, to change this world.

It’s not going to be done through politics or religion. It’s going to be done through you making a decision to go and be a part of this domino effect, to help people get into a position in even which they couldn’t dream to be in.

My grandmother understood this. My grandmother passed away from breast cancer in 1995. I used to go and visit my grandmother at a hospice, and her roommate, she had a white roommate, Southern lady from the South. And every time I went to go see my grandmother, she used to say that, she used to yell out:

“There goes that n***** son of yours. There goes that n***** boy of yours.”

Every single time I came to go see my grandmother. And it, it made me so upset. And my grandmother just lay in the bed and she acted like she didn’t hear them say, calling me the N-word.

And so for weeks, you know, this would happen. And then one time I went and I was getting ready to leave my grandmother’s side and she pulled me and grabbed me by the arm, and she said, “If I die before her, I want you to come back here and see her.”

Excuse me?

Now at this point I don’t know if my grandmother is suffering from breast cancer or if she’s suffering from dementia, because she clearly had lost her damn mind if she thought I was gonna come back and see this woman that called me the N-word every time I came in.

But it was my grandmother. So I ended up, my grandmother passed away like three weeks later after she told me to do this, and I asked Miss Barbara Wilfork, who was like a mentor to my mom, to take me out to the hospice center to go see this woman.

And so I go, and I go see her, and I go into the room and she’s like stared at me for like five seconds. And then she kind of raised up on her bed and then she just started bawling, crying. And she said, “Oh my God, I’m so happy I had chance to see you again. I never thought I would see you again.” Really threw me for a loop.

And she starts crying and she said, “You know, I went to church. I was going to church. I was doing all these things that I thought was good but I was doing the one thing that I know for a fact that God didn’t want me to do. And that was being hateful to His people.”

And so she, she reached to give me a hug and I hugged her, and it was kind of reluctant because I didn’t know if this lady’s going to shank me or whatever. So she hugged me and she said, “You know, you’re like the son that I never had.”

Now I really know somebody is suffering from dementia here. I’m like the son, the N-word that you called me every day, the son that you never had? And I just took, took that and I left. And the nurses came and they said that was so awesome to witness. They said, “You know she has two daughters that you know, they brought her here and it became too unbearable for them to see her so they stopped coming.”

So this one was reacting to me out of anger. You know, how can this black man, you know, come see his black grandmother and because of how she was raised, and my own daughters can’t come see me? So she was very angry. But the domino effect in this process of this happening was we both were taught acceptance and forgiveness. And it was a very valuable lesson that I’ve continued to have to this day, acceptance. Which leads me to my next story.

So last year, some of you may have read about it already, but I was at a WWE event. After the WWE event I went to dinner with some friends, and I just finished eating and left and was walking with some of my friends, and a homeless couple came up to me and they said, you know, can we get a few dollars to go and get a sandwich from across the street? And I said, “I’ll do one even better for you. You can, how about you come and eat where we just ate at?” They were like, “Really?” I was like, “Yeah. Come on, I’ll treat you to dinner here.”

And so we walked back to the restaurant and she, we walked to the front, and the gentleman out front who I found out was the manager a little bit later on in the evening, I said, “I want to, I want to see if I can get my two friends here some service.” And he gave me this blank stare. And it was very uncomfortable. Still uncomfortable for me even to talk about it.

So uncomfortable to the point where the gentleman in the back behind me, the homeless guy, said, “It’s okay, we’ll just, we’ll just take some stuff to go, we don’t want to cause any trouble.” And I was like, “No. You guys are gonna sit here and eat just like I did, and they’re gonna treat you with dignity just like they treated me with dignity.”

So, you know, I’d say, I gave him the money, I gave the manager the money, more than enough money for them both to eat and give an adequate tip. And I said, “The only thing I ask is that you don’t let him buy alcohol with it. They can buy anything they want, they can take food to go, do whatever they want, but just don’t let him buy alcohol. Please make sure they get taken care of.” And he said, “I will make sure they get taken care of.”

So me and my friends left the restaurant, we’re walking and talking, and something just told me to turn around. And so I started walking back towards where we came from and I see this homeless couple coming back. And I was like, “Damn, y’all must have been real hungry, they fed y’all pretty quick!” And they said, “No, uh, he said he would just fix us a bunch of to-go boxes and uh, you know, so we gotta wait on our food to get done.”

Now I’m a nice guy. I really am. But I guarantee you not one person in this room wants to see me upset. And I was hot. So I went back to the restaurant, saw the manager up front, I was like, “Sir, why is it that these people aren’t being served inside a restaurant seated like I asked you to have them seated?” And he’s like, “Oh no no no no, they were, they said they would be comfortable with taking some to-go boxes.” I said, “Yeah, probably because you made them feel uncomfortable from the beginning when they came in here, like how dare you bring these people into my establishment?” And my friends felt me getting upset so they didn’t want me to make a scene and end up on TMZ or anywhere else. TMZ are probably here right now.

So they pulled me outside and then this guy came up to me. He’s like, “You know I think it’s very admirable what you’re doing.” And I looked at him and I was like, “Man, who the hell are you?” Because I’m still mad. And he said, “I’m the assistant manager and you know, I’m sorry about how this whole thing turned out, you know.”

I said, “Are you a man of faith?” And he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes, absolutely.” I said “Well next time a situation comes up like this, why don’t you let your faith be activated and make sure that people get treated with the love of God and not as if they’re a plague?” So he was like, “You’re absolutely right, man. You know, I’ll think about that next time.”

And so I made sure they got their food, I left, and I couldn’t even sleep that night. And I woke up the next morning, I called my mom, I explained to her the whole story. And she was like, and I told her, I said, “I’m gonna go in front of this restaurant, I’m a take a selfie and then I’m a blast ’em all over social media.” I’m pretty sure that’s what she was doing on the inside, but she just was like, “Oh…kay?” I was like, “All right Mama, I’ll talk to you later.” Because she’s supposed to be like, “Yeah, you’re supposed to go and you’re supposed to get on social media and just blast ’em and hopefully, you know, they’ll learn their lesson.”

So now I pick up the telephone and I call my pastor who just recently passed away two months ago, Pastor Greg Powe. And he was like a dad to me, and so I said, you know, I explained the story to him and told him what went on and told him what I was gonna plan on doing, taking a picture and you know, I’m a post it.

And one thing I liked about my pastor, he let me curse, so I knew I was good, you know, when he let me curse, so we were cool.

And so I, he said, “You know son, I think you should just do whatever God lays on your heart to do.” I said, “All right, you’ve been hanging out with my mom.” Aren’t they supposed to tell me, “Yeah man, go ahead and post that thing and blast them on the internet.” So then I hung up the phone with him, still frustrated, trying to figure out what I’m gonna do.

I said, you know what? I got an idea. I’m about to go around all of downtown San Diego and I’m a gather as many homeless people as I can find. And I did just that. I went and I gathered every homeless person that wanted to come and eat, and we had about 25, 30 people rolling deep.

So I walked up to the restaurant, I walked up to the restaurant, and the guy who is the assistant manager came and he’s like, “Oh you’re back.” I said “Yeah I’m back, but as you can see I’m a need a few more tables than I did last night.” And he just smiled and he said, “Give me a few minutes.”

So they went and set up the tables and we all filed in there and one lady was really hesitant about going in, she was like, “You know what? I’d love to go in there but my dog can’t go inside and I can’t leave him out here by himself.” And I was like, “You know what? That dog is a service dog today. Bring him on inside. The dog gon’ eat too.”

So we sat there, and we’re sitting there, and I’m so, I’m just so overwhelmed with like the stories and the energy that these people had, and that the fact that I was able to be involved in this whole process of like, people being treated like people.

And you know, the domino effect in this situation was that I took an opportunity where a guy wanted to operate in ignorance to treating people with dignity. And I used it as an opportunity to treat people with true humanity. And it was honestly one of the greatest days of my life.

And so as I’ve said before, all of you in here have the opportunity to change people’s lives. So I want all of you to take your phones out right now. Hurry up. Some of you probably already got it out already, upset, you know, upset that I didn’t come up here in my underwear, boots, and baby oil.

I want you to text anyone on your phone and I want you to tell them this exactly like I tell you to tell tell them. Say “I love you, and I believe in you.” I love you, and I believe in you. Don’t fall.

So I’m not going to give you that much time to get responses ’cause I already know what most of your responses are going to be anyway. They’re gonna go something like this. First one’s going to be, “What the hell is going on? What did you do? You all right? Y’all do something wrong?”

The second one is gonna be, “Man, I really needed that. I was having a horrible day today. And a third one’ll be they’ll reciprocate what they just said to you, or what you just said to them, which is, “I love you and I believe in you too.”

Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations. You have participated in the domino effect of advocacy and changing people’s lives. Yeah, give yourself a hand.

Now I have to go back to the beginning and let it be known that I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to deliver this message if it wasn’t for my mom making the decision at twelve years old to bring me into this world.

And I want to ask you this question before I leave. How many of you have ever been impacted by someone’s life? Nobody gets to where they are by mistake or by themselves. So remember the fact that you got help to be in the position you’re in.

So are you going to be the domino that sits still and content in where you are? Are you going to be the domino that moves things forward? Or are you gonna be the person that keeps things moving backwards because of your unwillingness to think outside of the box?

You guys or some of the most creative minds in the world. Whether you’re at the highest part of the GPA chain or the lowest, we all are brilliant. I’m a proud Gator, I can say that.

But the decision is yours. Do you want to make an impact in this world? I’ll leave it to you. Thank you.