Habitat kid and UGA senior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell dreams of engaging kids in his newest passion — reading.
“Follow your dreams, and they will take you wherever you want to go.”
So says the magician in a new children’s book, , written by Malcolm Mitchell with art by Dennis Campay.
Mitchell — who grew up in a Habitat house in Valdosta, Georgia — didn’t have to read a book to know that he wanted to grow up to play football. There also is nothing especially magical about his ability to catch passes and run like the wind — those are God-given gifts, says the 22-year-old senior wide receiver for the University of Georgia.
But something kind of magical did happen after Mitchell tore his ACL in the Bulldogs’ 2013 season opener. He honed a love of reading and found that his dreams changed or, as he would say, evolved.
The same guy who once planned on playing college ball for two years before bolting to the pros is now focused on finishing his degree, which he is on track to earn in December. “My body will give out before my mind,” says Mitchell, a communications major, “but I will always have this degree.”
In The Magician’s Hat, written by Malcolm Mitchell with art by Dennis Campay, children discover how books can help them realize their dreams.
Another dream to surface in the post-injury evolution is publishing a book, which Mitchell can cross off his list with The Magician’s Hat. Maybe he’ll publish another book some day, this one of poems, which he also writes.
What makes these new dreams especially magical for Mitchell is that unlike football, reading was not something that came naturally. “When I look back to high school, I was just maximizing what I was always already good at, which was athletics,” Mitchell says. “When I figured out in college that life holds so much more than athletics, I also figured out that I was way behind in my reading and I had some work to do.”
Today, No. 26 is as likely to be seen holding a novel as a football. Mitchell is reading some books for the book club he asked to join after meeting a member in the local book store. He’s not the least bit embarrassed that everyone else in the book club is a middle-aged woman and in fact was thrilled when the book club captured the attention of national media.
“I wanted to be in an atmosphere where reading was something pleasurable and that you looked forward to,” he says. “Now it is not just a club, it is a friendship.” Mitchell also voraciously reads children’s books, including The Giving Tree, Pete the Cat, all of Dr. Seuss, books he calls “magical.” He shares that magic visiting schools and encouraging children to read. “Five years ago, getting an education and reading didn’t even cross my mind,” he says. “I guess you never know what you can pull out of yourself.”
Rain, then sunshine
Mitchell says he learned to find opportunities in life’s twists and turns from his mother, Pratina Woods. A breast cancer survivor, Woods works full-time as a call center supervisor while also getting a degree in social work. “She is the one who has taught me to keep evolving,” Mitchell says. “When times are hard, she still has faith and keeps pushing.”
Eleven years ago, Woods was facing some very hard times. She was going through a divorce when she moved Mitchell, then 11, his older brother Marquise and younger sister Zakirra from Florida to Valdosta to live with her mother. For several years, as Woods worked to get back on her feet, the kids slept on couches and air mattresses.
A woman of deep faith, Woods applied for public housing but got turned down. “I was in tears saying, ‘God, I really need this,’” Woods remembers. “A woman at the housing office looked at me and said, ‘God has a different plan.’ She is the one who told me about Habitat.”
Two days after filling out an application, Woods got a call from . “Within a week, I got approved for a house and got a promotion at work,” she says.
Her white house with the blue shutters and front door sits on a cul-de-sac of six Habitat homes. Woods remembers hurrying to put in enough sweat equity hours so she could call dibs on the corner lot, which had the most land for her three children to romp.
Mitchell was 14 when his family moved into the house, and he still remembers how excited he was. “The Habitat house meant new beginnings,” Mitchell says. “It was the first property my mom ever owned. It was our first mailbox, our first front door.
“Habitat was the sunshine after the rain.”— Pratina Woods, Habitat homeowner
The path forward
In The Magician’s Hat, one young boy dreams of being a famous football player. Mitchell still has that dream and hopes to be drafted by an NFL team. The dream now also includes being a famous spokesman for reading and education. “There is no bigger platform than athletics,” he says. “You choose how you want to use it.”
From the sidelines, Mitchell’s mom is confident that her son is ready for whatever comes next. She has given him a pen inscribed with a favorite Bible verse, 2 Timothy 1:7. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
“I told Malcolm to use that pen when he signs his name to his future,” Woods says. “That could be a contract with a professional football team or a job acceptance letter. If it isn’t football, Malcolm knows there is another path for him.”