Read With Malcolm
I admit it. I pulled against the Bulldogs (the Dawgs) last Monday night when they beat the tar out of the Alabama Crimson Tide to be crowned 2021’s National Champions. My aversion to the Dawgs is a holdover from my college days at Georgia Tech, where I learned to pull for the Yellow Jackets and any other team playing against the University of Georgia (UGA). I know the rivalry is petty and I should’ve outgrown it by now, but I haven’t. I’m trying to be a better person, but I’m just not there yet.
Still, I meet so many wonderful folks who attended UGA, and I feel a little guilty for always wishing they’d lose. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Malcolm Mitchell, a 28-year-old, black UGA alumnus who played football as a wide receiver for the Dawgs before moving on to the New England Patriots. He even has a Super Bowl win under his belt.
As you may have guessed, Malcolm and I didn’t discuss his football career, and I sure didn’t tell him about my strong dislike for his alma mater. Instead, Malcolm and I had a lovely conversation about reading.
Malcolm is a respected voice in the national literacy space — quite a twist of fate for the Valdosta native who once struggled to read.
“Growing up, I loved sports, especially football, but I wasn’t the best student in school,” he says. “I thought, ‘What difference does it make if I make a C? A C will get me to the next grade — same as an A — and it’s less work.’” He graduated from high school with an athletic scholarship and moved to Athens to play football for the Bulldogs.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in trouble in the classroom. I was not a strong or productive reader, and I had to be able to read well to keep up with my classwork,” he remembers. “I knew I had to do something, so I decided to approach reading like I approached football — by practicing. I started reading children’s books and worked my way up from there.”
His reading skills improved, and he also discovered he enjoyed the activity. Indeed, he became known as “the guy who always has a book to read.” One day as he browsed the shelves of the Barnes & Noble in Athens, he asked another customer to recommend a good book. The middle-aged woman paused and studied the young black football player standing before her. Then she suggested a book she and others were reading in a book club. Malcolm’s face lit up.
“I said, ‘You’re in a book club?’ Then I immediately asked her if I could join her book club, too,” he remembers. “I think she thought I was crazy or joking, but I wasn’t.”
Malcolm joined the book club and loved the experience, even though he was different from the other members who were older, white women.
“The differences in our race and age and backgrounds didn’t matter at all. None of that mattered,” he says. “I connected with those women because of our passion for books and reading.”
In addition to regularly meeting with his book club buddies, he visited schools around Athens and read to the kids.
As he approached graduation, Mitchell decided to write his own book. He self-published The Magician’s Hat, a book later re-published by Scholastic as part of a three-book contract he signed. That same year, he also signed a contract with the New England Patriots.
“And I started the Share the Magic Foundation (www.readwithmalcolm.com) to promote reading challenges, organize school events and provide books to kids to help them read their way to better futures. We’ve touched well over 300,000 students across the country and given away thousands of books.”
Today, he still makes appearances at elementary schools and hosts reading rallies.
He addresses the kids by saying, “In order to succeed, you have to . . .”
“Read!” the young students scream in unison. They love him.
Malcolm told me he’s most proud of his accomplishments off the football field — improving his own reading skills, writing books for children, and promoting literacy to a new generation of readers.
“When you give a child a book, you give him hope,” he says. “We’ve got to get our young people reading again. It’s as simple as that.”
I may harbor a senseless dislike for those Dawgs (Go Jackets!), but I really respect Malcolm Mitchell and applaud his efforts in getting kids to “read with Malcolm.”