June 17, 2022
The "happily ever after" theme does not apply to Ray Ray McElrathbey in the two years after his story was chronicled in the Disney movie Safety.
McElrathbey became immersed in stock-market investing and is now trying to recoup losses amid the significant economic downturn of 2022.
He started his own shipping company but has been hit hard figuratively by the rising fuel prices, and literally last month when a truck he was driving careened off a back road in New Mexico and down a ravine. He was hospitalized, the truck was totaled, and he later rented a car and drove home to Atlanta. He considers himself lucky to be alive.
McElrathbey, who took custody of his younger brother Fahmarr while at Clemson in 2006, is deeply conflicted about what was gained from the movie and what was lost.
He said he was so eager to have his story chronicled by Disney that he quickly signed up without much consideration of compensation, and he regrets that his little brother doesn't have more to show for it.
"Fahmarr trusted me to handle everything, and I didn't do it in the best way possible. I should have gotten us a better deal."
While the movie's chronicling of Ray Ray and Fahmarr brought feel-good vibes, the depictions of his mother and father were much different.
His mother had to deal with being defined as a junkie. She continues to battle drug addiction, Ray Ray says.
"The movie ended with a picture of me, Fahmarr and my mother, and we were happy. But that was after the credits, and most people don't sit through the credits," Ray Ray says.
"She's more than just an addict. Not that I blame Disney for that; it's just that I was so giddy and excited about doing a movie that I didn't think about any ramifications about what it was like for my mom to be portrayed like that. I thought it was just all good no matter how it went down."
His father, who died of heart failure at age 54 two years before the movie aired, was cast as a deadbeat dead from the beginning in 2006 when Oprah Winfrey and other national voices descended on Clemson to chronicle the story. Ray Ray was largely responsible for those portrayals, and he now punishes himself for not having more perspective and wisdom about a father who was much more loving and redeeming than he believed years ago.
The recent accident in New Mexico brought a revelation in Ray Ray: His real calling might be spending the rest of his life sharing his story, and doing more to help children in need.
Probably the foremost lesson Ray Ray is now experiencing in his mid-30s: Severe childhood trauma takes decades to sort out and resolve.
And resolution most certainly isn't achieved with a Disney movie.