Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Malcolm Mitchell records an audio version of The Magician’s Hat at the Athens Learning Ally studio.
It took an injury in college for New England Patriots wide receiver and former Georgia Bulldogs star Malcolm Mitchell to discover his love of reading something other than X’s and O’s.
Mitchell, who graduated from UGA last spring, even took it a step further, publishing the children’s book The Magician’s Hat last year. In July, he recorded a reading for the Athens Learning Ally studio, an organization that provides audio versions of books and resources for parents of children with learning disabilities such as blindness or dyslexia.
“When I got to college, I learned how people who had gravitated to reading, or just education in general, had a jump start on certain areas of life that I wanted to venture into outside of athletics,” Mitchell says. “And once I noticed that, I also noticed my inability to read effectively at a certain level, which caused me to begin to read more, and once I began to read more I wanted to encourage the people around me, and especially kids, to read.”
He says he went into “the lab,” as he calls it, with one thing in mind: “to make [the book] available to anybody and everybody who wanted to read it, no matter what situation they’re placed in.”
The book has exploded, becoming wildly popular among parents and educators, and the power it has to inspire so many kids is something Mitchell says is a dream. “A dream without a plan is a wish, but when I shared my idea with Anne and Dave Sapp, that dream had a plan and became reality. It was something I always hoped for. Did I know how to get there? No. Luckily, I was blessed with people who could help me.”
Mitchell started the organization Read with Malcolm, with Anne Sapp as executive director, as a platform to reach out to communities and inspire kids to read, with the message that “the only boundaries are those we create for ourselves.” The success of The Magician’s Hat was unexpected, and the book won’t be his last, he says.
While sitting out for 2013 and most of the 2014 season, Mitchell discovered his love of reading and explored his new passion by joining a ladies’ book club. This led him to realize the potential of a healthy appetite for books, as it started to impact his athletic life just as much as his intellectual one, and he uses his position as an athlete and role model to connect with young readers. Mitchell believes he can use his position as a pro football player to attract the attention of kids who may not be as prone to listen to their parents or teachers when it comes to reading.
“Literally, [reading] had an impact on how I play football, because now I’m retaining information differently. I’m gathering information differently, because on the field things are happening so fast,” he says. “If you can’t pick up on it then you’re one step behind, so really getting kids to understand the importance of education, with sports, is the No. 1 thing.”
But a 6-year-old doesn’t care what team you play for, he says. “The only thing they care about is why you are there, and if you can prove to them in five to 10 seconds that you’re there for them, they’ll probably listen.”
With The Magician’s Hat and the recording completed through Learning Ally, Mitchell is using his status to help teachers and parents. “If you can empower the teachers in some way so you don’t have to be in the room but your message is there with the kid, as the teacher is trying to teach them, I don’t see anything stopping them.”
Another way he’s making connections is by partnering with Usher’s New Look, an organization dedicated to helping “disconnected” students. The organization is building a Spark Lab in Atlanta where kids can go for safe after-school studying, experiential learning and more. Mitchell will be one of five partners, and is involved mainly with a reading-innovation lab there. He’s also meeting with educators and making an animated interactive video of his book, and Mountain Faith Band of Sylva, NC has even adapted his book into a song.
While he’s still the new kid on the block with the Patriots, who drafted him last summer, Mitchell hasn’t approached his teammates about collaborating with him on these projects, but he says once he’s been a part of the team longer, he’ll feel more comfortable trying to partner with teammates like tight end Martellus Bennett, who he says is “big into reading.”
“My first job in New England is to do the best I can, to make sure I’m a part of that team, a part of that organization as much as I can possibly be. But also a part of me that comes with me everywhere I go is community outreach, the reading, encouraging youth literacy,” Mitchell says. “And that’s how it will always be.”