I received a few emails about a terrific piece in Friday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal about Malcolm Mitchell.
As a star player on a top high-school team, Mr. Mitchell had his pick of college scholarships. But when he arrived at the University of Georgia, he realized that he was behind his peers academically. “They were so articulate and accomplished,” he recalls. “I said to myself, ‘I want that.’” After hearing Curtis Jackson, the rapper known as 50 Cent, talk about Robert Greene’s self-help book “The 48 Laws of Power,” Mr. Mitchell tried reading a copy. “It was heartbreaking,” he recalls. “I had to look up every other word.”
Demoralized but not discouraged, he saw that he needed to “start from scratch.” At 20 he was reading “The Giving Tree” and “Exclamation Mark,” paying close attention to punctuation and writing down new words. He then moved on to graphic novels, young-adult novels like the “Harry Potter” series and adult fiction before exploring essays and biographies. He discovered that he loved learning about people he would never otherwise meet and examining thorny ideas from unexpected points of view. “The more you read, the more you open yourself up to different perspectives,” he observes.
While recovering from knee surgeries in 2013-14, Mr. Mitchell was scanning the shelves at an Athens, Ga., Barnes & Noble when he noticed an older woman holding several books. He struck up a conversation, hoping to get a book recommendation, and was excited to learn that she belonged to a book club. He earnestly asked if he could join and ended up spending two years discussing novels with a group of women older than his mother.
His NFL career ended early due to injury, he’s found his current calling.
Today Mr. Mitchell, 28, is a writer himself. His second children’s book, “My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World,” will be published next month in a bilingual edition with English and Spanish side by side. Retired from the NFL because of injuries, he devotes himself to traveling the country to promote literacy, particularly among students from disadvantaged backgrounds like his own. “Children listen to me because I look like many of them,” he says. His Share the Magic Foundation, now in its fifth year, has reached hundreds of thousands of students through in-person school events and free virtual programming, including a READcamp to keep kids reading over the summer. The organization has distributed nearly 60,000 free books to kids in underserved communities.
And what story about a college athlete who lived up to the ideals the NCAA promotes wouldn’t be complete without an NIL reference?
Eager to promote “the magic of reading” to youngsters, Mr. Mitchell was a college senior when he decided to write his own children’s book. At the time, strict NCAA rules barred college athletes from making business deals, so he had to publish “The Magician’s Hat” himself and sell it exclusively through the University of Georgia bookstore. The book became a local bestseller and earned him the Children’s Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association.