The following would be a fit for the sports pages, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Malcolm Mitchell’s ability to catch a football, which he did well enough in 2017 to win a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots.
His adroit skills on the football field have been well documented, at least in Georgia circles. What many do not know about this native of Valdosta is that he woke up one morning and confronted a debilitating deficiency in his life. He said aloud, “I can’t read.” Actually, he could read words, but not at the level he aspired. There was a meaningful caveat in that there was a burning ambition to be well read.
The good news is that he faced his shortcoming with the resolve to render the inadequacy in his life invalid; null and void. From that pivotal moment, he set out to change his life, which would become a defining and signature moment.
Malcolm familiarized himself with the gripping statistics. He bordered on being one of 32 million Americans who cannot read, a mind boggling 14 percent of our population. He became painfully aware that more than a “third of Hispanic and African American twelfth graders read below the basic level and that many students who struggle to read and write well make up a substantial portion of the 1.2 million students who leave high school each year without a diploma.” Not only did he remedy the problem for himself personally, he has an enduring commitment to help reduce the debilitating aforementioned statistics by encouraging kids that reading makes you a better person. Reading enables you to make better decisions in life. That is a sermon he preaches every day. Along the way, he had the good fortune of becoming friends with one of the most altruistic families in Athens, John and Kay Parker, who became surrogate parents. The guest room was always available when Malcolm was in town and needed a place tolayhishead. Fromthe beginning, he was always welcomed to pull up a chair when it was mealtime; dinner, organized by Kay Parker, is always a fulfilling treat.
When Malcolm was recuperating from knee surgery, the Parkers retreated upstairs from their master bedroom on the first floor, which allowed for the ultimate convenience for their rehabbing young friend to get back on his feet.
With that residency fringe benefit came a propitious bonus. John Parker, a retired Coca-Cola executive, is also a lawyer, which came in handy when Malcolm formed his “Share the Magic Foundation.” The term “in house lawyer” has never been more apropos.
Malcolm’s first goal after the Patriots Super Bowl victory was to continue playing football, but knee surgeries forced him into retirement. However, he had something to fall back on. He had earned a degree in communications by the time of the NFL draft in the spring of 2016.
Not only had his reading skills risen to an exciting level, he had become an author. Before his senior year he wrote, “The Magician’s Hat.” Something magical soon happened, a story that has been widely circulated but one that will never lose its serendipitous cogency with Malcolm.
While browsing through the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble one afternoon, he spotted a lady searching for a book. Malcolm approached Kathy Rackley and asked if she could recommend a book to him.
They became acquainted and before he could say “Old North Church,” Malcolm was invited to become a member of “Silverleaf Book Club,” which he told the Boston Globe helped him “grow into a better person, a person who learns and grows throughout life in general.”
Malcolm has written another children’s book, “My Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World.” You’ll have to buy the book to learn about its poignant message. Malcolm’s ongoing preachment to kids is that there is pure joy in reading. “Reading,” he says, “made me a better person. By reading, I learned that I could make better decisions.’ He is into the works of Ernest Hemmingway, Robert Frost and James Baldwin among other celebrated authors. He has begun to write poetry, which is why he was attracted to the musings of Frost and was taken aback when he learned that the New England poet often visited the Georgia campus in the late fifties as the guest of Hugh Hodgson, head of the UGA music department.
While his mother Pratina Woods always harbored dreams of earning a degree, she redoubled her efforts when Malcolm was graduated from UGA and began pursuing his interest in reading and subsequently writing. She has completed requirements for an undergraduate degree at Valdosta State and is on the way to earning a Master’s in psychology.
When the Patriots were winding their way to the Lombardi Trophy in 2017, Malcolm’s teammates often found him at his locker reading the New York Times on his iPhone with a couple of Hemmingway and Baldwin novels stashed nearby. He became the Patriot’s “sore thumb.”
In a recent conversation with Malcolm, I was able to share with him the lines written by a little known poet, Strickland Gilliam—which reflects the kind of parent Malcolm expects to be.
“You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold; richer than I you can never be, I had a mother who read to me.”