Zibby Owens: Welcome, Malcolm. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Malcolm Mitchell: I’m excited. Thank you for having me. By the way, I’m a new father. Oakley, my son’s mom looked up the podcast and told me I was on a superstar podcast.

Zibby: Congratulations on your son. That’s really exciting.

Malcolm: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Zibby: How old is he now?

Malcolm: He’s going to be six months in a few days.

Zibby: Aw, that’s good. You got the smiles going and all that.

Malcolm: Exactly. You have some experience, huh?

Zibby: I have four kids. I’m out of the baby stage, but I miss the baby stage. I love babies, oh, my gosh.

Malcolm: I don’t know. I think I’m ready to be out of the baby stage.

Zibby: I love babies, but now I would be happy to hold someone else’s baby. How about that?

Malcolm: Okay, we see to eye to eye.

Zibby: Sleeping is nice. I don’t miss having four babies. I had twins too, so that was really tough. Somehow, the days keep going and they get older. That’s really fun.

Malcolm: Moms are incredible too. I always say Jasmine, Oakley’s mom, does ninety-nine percent of the work, and then I complain about the one percent I have to do.

Zibby: That sounds about right. At different times, different parents step in. Who knows? Maybe at age five it’ll be ninety-nine percent you, or it’ll stay the same. Anyway, I’ll let you two work that out. Congratulations on your book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, which is a fantastic book. For listeners who aren’t familiar with this book yet, can you just tell them the basic story of it? Then what inspired you to write this particular book?

Malcolm: My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World was inspired by my personal experience. I grew up a striving reader, struggling reader. I believed some words were too big, some books too thick, some sentences too long and complicated. I was afraid of reading. My hands would get sweaty. My behavior really suffered from that in classrooms. Through my journey into literacy and finding a love for books, I realized how magical they are, how powerful they can be, and how much of an impact they can have on one’s life. I committed to making sure kids understood the importance of reading. My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World documents this kid going on this search for this book that inspires him. Through his journey, he realizes that sometimes the best stories can be found inside of ourselves.

Zibby: Love it. I kept wondering the whole book, what’s the book going to be? Then you had that nice twist at the end and wrapped it all up with a nice bow. I liked it.

Malcolm: At first when I wrote the story, I said, I don’t know, it could come off a little corny. It’s such a truth, though. You go on this search for this story or you search for purpose to find yourself. You realize the answer was always there. I guess that’s a more philosophical look at it.

Zibby: It’s true. That’s the way it is with most things in life. The things that you strive the hardest for are often found within yourself anyway. I’ll carry the corny theme on extrapolating it to life in general. I read that you were reading at a middle-school level when you got to college. What happened then? Also, were you ever diagnosed with any sort of learning disability, or was it just a lack of education in the reading arena that caused that? What was that about?

Malcolm: Let me start by saying I was not diagnosed with any learning disabilities. I think my community promoted sports and entertainment over education. I was just like every other child. It was no one’s fault. It’s just the way the community was structured. I had this intense draw to sport and football, which worked out. I was able to go to the NFL, played in a Super Bowl. I had that unworldly experience, but it was really restricting. It kind of placed me into a box only relying on that natural skill set. Once I got to the University of Georgia, I realized how limited my thinking was. My exposure was not wide or broad, and I wanted to change that. I wanted to feel empowered not just physically, but mentally. Through a series of fortunate events, I discovered that if I wanted to be more emotionally intelligent, more cognitive, a better decision-maker, I needed to be literate. There are different signs that I’m more than willing to dive into, if you want, that led me to that conclusion. I started trying to read. When I started, I actually started with this book. It’s titled The 48 Laws of Power.

Zibby: That’s what you started on? Maybe that was your problem. I don’t even know if I could get through that book, and I read a trillion books.

Malcolm: I started with this. Of course, I was discouraged. I was terribly discouraged. I put the book down. I said, forget it.

Zibby: For people listening, by the way, Malcolm just held up a thousand-page book with the tiniest font and a trillion words per page called Power which looks incredibly intimidating. Although, I’m sure it’s fantastic.

Malcolm: It is fantastic, but it’s still intimidating. It took me a year to read that thing. I started off with this. Like I do everything else in my life, I just jump in, had no thought. Got into it, realized it was terribly difficult, kind of shied away from it, but had this revelation that, no, I need to read. I started reading picture books and took my athletic approach of you start with fundamentals. Then eventually, you get better. Then you become your own version of the athlete you want to be. I thought to myself, maybe if I do this same thing with reading, it’ll work out. I started with the fundamentals. I went back and started reading picture books.

Zibby: You taught yourself? You did it by yourself?

Malcolm: I’m in my dorm room reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, writing down notes about sentence structure. I did that with books like The Giving Tree; Exclamation Mark; Cat in the Hat; Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Eventually, my theory played out like I thought it would. I gradually got better and better and better. I think I started with self-help because they’re really easy to read. Then I moved to graphic novels because they were very simple. Then I moved into young adult. I started with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Eventually, I was writing down vocabulary words and such-and-such. Next thing I knew, I was reading The 48 Laws of Power.

Zibby: Wow.

Malcolm: It was a fun journey to even go back and think about. Funny story. I’m glad this is causal because I’m rambling.

Zibby: Please ramble. I’m really enjoying it.

Malcolm: Funny story. I started reading these books. I figured if I enhance my vocabulary, I’d be a better reader. One of my biggest struggles, I couldn’t identify the words. I didn’t have the skill set of sounding them out. What I would do is I’d read the book. If I came across a word, I’d jot it down. I’d go to Google, let Google say it to me. Then I’d challenge myself to use that word in a sentence three times a day. Now, I’m in a locker room full of other athletes just like me that had similar backgrounds who didn’t have this overwhelming appreciation for education. I’m using words like superfluous and evanescent. They’re looking at me, what are you talking about? It was a fun journey.

Zibby: That’s really impressive. In the middle of college, and you’re playing football in college and you’re soon to be drafted to the Patriots, you could’ve been doing anything. You could’ve just been partying every night. You could’ve been relaxing, anything. Instead, you’ve chosen to completely improve yourself in every way by teaching yourself and pushing yourself through all these stages. What was the huge inspiration?

Malcolm: If I go back to the root, it would probably be my mother. I grew up in a single-parent household in a small town. My mother has this infectious way of encouraging and uplifting and empowering. She was limited due to her own personal challenges. She really enforced this unwavering faith and almost blissfully ignorant belief that you could do anything you set your mind to. I adopted that. That’s what helped me be a professional athlete. That’s also helped me never — bad sentence structure here — never stop striving to be a better version of myself even today. I always want to search for more, not monetarily or materialistic, but just trying to really reach my full potential. I’m not sure that’s even possible, but my mom made me think that it is. I still believe that, so I still go. When I realized that I would be capped if I wasn’t literate, I needed to be literate to stay on track of evolving into a better version of myself. My mom is the answer to your question.

Zibby: Have you told her that?

Malcolm: Maybe not like that. In my first picture book, The Magician’s Hat, the forward is, “To my mother for always allowing me to believe dreams can become reality.” Then in my second book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, I wrote, “To my mom, my very favorite person in the whole wide world.”

Zibby: I know. That was so nice.

Malcolm: Maybe not directly, but indirectly I think I’ve tried to acknowledge her.

Zibby: You should just call her when we finish doing this and say what you said. As a mom, if my kid were to call me and say that — I’m sure she’s insanely proud of you to begin with. Just to hear it, I bet it would make her day. Just saying, if you have a free minute, you’ll make her smile.

Malcolm: For my mom, I have all the time in the world.

Zibby: Aw. Are you an only child?

Malcolm: No, I’m the middle.

Zibby: Did your siblings grow up with the same drive as you, or was it just you? Yeah, same way?

Malcolm: I have an older brother and a younger sister. I’m the middle. I would say they have the same drive as I do. They took different direction, of course. We didn’t go all in the same direction. We are all on our own individual journeys, but that philosophy of never giving up and pulling the best out of yourself is something I think my mom instilled in all three of us.

Zibby: You must have hit so many roadblocks in different areas in your athletic career, in your teaching yourself to read, now writing, forming your nonprofit. How do you push past those moments where you feel like you can’t keep going and then you do anyway?

Malcolm: I’ve had several of those moments. In college, I went through a series of injuries that kept me out of football for a year and a half. I went through the same situation once I got to the NFL. I ran into that issue in reading, forming the nonprofit. Problems are everywhere. It’s just the way of life. I heard this powerful message this past weekend that said, how can you have victory if there’s no battle?

Zibby: That’s good.

Malcolm: Right?

Zibby: Yep, that’s a good one.

Malcolm: It’s the way I live my life. Once it gets hard, it almost energizes me because now I have something to conquer. Now I can get out of bed and say I’m after something. I think that’s just maybe a part of my personality. I can’t really take credit for it being that way because I don’t know how I became that way. It’s impossible to be a winner or — that’s a bad word. Let’s use a different word. It’s impossible to have victory if there’s no battle. There has to be some type of confrontation to accomplish anything. I’m sure you’ve even had your own set of obstacles with this brilliant podcast.

Zibby: Thank you. Yes, I’ve had lots of obstacles and lots of setbacks and losses and things in life that happened that knock you down.

Malcolm: How did you overcome yours?

Zibby: Thank you for asking. That’s nice of you. How did I overcome mine? One thing I always try to do is focus on the things I’m grateful for even when I’m going through things that are really awful. It could always be worse. That’s sort of my mantra. It could always be worse. Yes, this is terrible. Yes, I’m devastated. Yes, this is awful. I worry about stuff all the time, so then I just start thinking about the eight thousand other things that could be really bad. Then I feel a little less bad about what’s going on.

Malcolm: Reverse psychology.

Zibby: Yeah, something like that.

Malcolm: I got you. Cool.

Zibby: That’s how I do it. I want to talk about your nonprofit, but I have to ask about your career-ending injury because I always wonder about athletes who — my husband’s a football fan, but I have to say I don’t really follow football. I didn’t know too much about your career ahead of time. He’s not even home right now, but he’ll make fun of me for this, not that he makes fun of me. You know what I’m saying. Anyway, I didn’t know the trajectory of your career. When I heard about your injury, I thought about all these athletes of all different sports who I hear about who all of a sudden, they have an injury and they have to stop. I think, oh, my gosh, how do you deal with that? After a lifetime of training and your body fails you when everything else might be in line, what then? How did you deal with that?

Malcolm: It’s heartbreaking. To be honest with you, it’s still terribly difficult to get past that emotionally. I’m trying to, for those who are listening, give a good — it’s like you have a fifteen-year career and you wake up one day and someone says, no, you can’t go to work. You can never go back to that job. You say, why? They give you this answer that’s out of your control. I’m doing a bad job of explaining, but it’s kind of like — I think this is a testament for how difficult it is.

Zibby: It’s not a bad job explaining. It’s something a lot of people can relate to. It’s not your fault. It’s not fair, and it happened anyway.

Malcolm: Yeah, but you have to accept it. You have to move on. You can’t stay stuck in the mud or life will pass you by. It is really difficult. I advise anyone going through any catastrophic changes to get a counselor and help you work through it. For me, it was just really tough thinking — I had been playing sports since I was nine or ten years old. I was fifteen years in. I just had no understanding of how the world worked without athletics. Imagine being on a different planet because that’s the reality. I’ll be honest with you. The way athletes think, perform, their daily schedule is so different than ninety-nine percent of the rest of the world. When I was done being that athlete, it’s kind of like I got thrust in this environment where I didn’t even understand it. What do you mean people can’t yell at each other and move on? What do you mean you can’t tackle somebody if you’re mad? How do you handle your problems? Handling my problems were in the form of some physical exertion on another human being. You’ll go to jail for that. You can’t do that anymore. I had never dealt with anxiety because by the time I’d become anxious, I’d go out on the field and make this extravagant play. It’s filled with this euphoric appreciation that, okay, I’m no longer sad or anxious or depressed. Now I have to deal with those real emotions. It’s like reprogramming or evolving. Depends on how you want to look at it.

Zibby: How is your knee now? Are you functional in your body? Can you go for a run, or are you done with everything?

Malcolm: Yes, I can do basic workouts, but no more cutting left or right. That phase is over.

Zibby: No more Tom Brady catches and Super Bowls and all that.

Malcolm: No more of that. Maybe some backyard catch. I can handle that.

Zibby: So he just has to come to your backyard. There you go.

Malcolm: Exactly.

Zibby: Tell me about Read with Malcom and your whole foundation and how you’re helping all these other kids read.

Malcolm: I started Share the Magic Foundation in 2016 as soon as I graduated from the University of Georgia. I wanted to start the foundation because, like many kids in my community, millions of kids around the world don’t understand the importance of literacy. I don’t think I was an anomaly by any means. I couldn’t have been because there are hundreds of kids that I grew up with that thought the same as I did.

Zibby: By the way, nice use of anomaly. Keep going.

Malcolm: I went through this transformation through literacy. I had become empowered. I wanted to give that gift to other people. I did not want them to feel they only had these two options of being an athlete or entertainer to live a sustainable lifestyle. In some communities, that’s just what you believe. I’m a picture book author. That’s the strangest thing if you go back to my community. That’s not even talked about. I started the foundation because I wanted to spread this magic that I had discovered with other kids around the world hoping that I could unlock their potential just as reading had unlocked mine. That’s the simplest reason of why I started Share the Magic Foundation.

Zibby: How involved are you? Is it something you do every day, or you just check in on board meetings?

Malcolm: Every day. Every day, I’m doing something to further the mission. Right now, we have virtual reading challenges that go on annually. Our next one is Read Bowl. We get on the phone each morning. We talk about how to make that accessible to kids and communities where it may be tough. We also talk about book ownership, how to make sure kids who can’t afford a book has one. That and being an author is what I do.

Zibby: How do you distribute the books? Do you raise money? Then how do you allocate where the books go? I’m assuming that’s how it works.

Malcolm: We used to do it through in-school programming. That’s been affected by COVID. Now we raise money. We purchase books from third parties. We distribute them into communities that are poverty pockets and book deserts. Usually, it’s to a Title I school. We do it through schools versus individual households just because we can do a better job of managing the process. All money raised goes to book ownership and making sure that our virtual programs stay free. That’s something that is important to me. I have this belief that necessity should not come at a fee. I’m really bothered that we have to pay for water and food because without it I wouldn’t survive. Literacy falls in that category. That’s just how strong I believe in it. Without it, you’re kind of stuck in the cycle of poverty. You’re caged by not having that social mobility that literacy can grant you. That’s just as deadly, to me, as not having shelter. It should be free. That’s my philosophy with the foundation.

Zibby: Do you teach people with your virtual programs how to read? What if they get the books but they can’t even read children’s books yet?

Malcolm: We don’t do — let me talk about what we do and not take a negative spin on it. What we do is we provide the tool, which is the book. Then we inspire. We don’t have the bandwidth today to productively teach reading. What we do have for now is the financial capabilities to make sure those who don’t have a book have one. That’s part of the biggest challenge. It’s hard to tell a kid or any person to read if they don’t have a book or any form of language to read. Then through the sport-like enthusiasm, we encourage. That’s what the virtual reading programs are really there for, to encourage reading through this very sport-like mentality that obviously I gathered from years of playing sports. If anyone wants to check it out and get a better understanding and not hear me ramble about it, you can go to, just like it sounds,, and look through it. Let me know if you like it.

Zibby: I want to get involved now. I’m going to donate. I think that’s amazing. I connected with this schoolteacher in an underprivileged community in Texas earlier this year. She was talking about if maybe I could give away a copy or two of a book. I donated just to her. I don’t even know her. This is probably not the smartest thing. Now we’re BFFs. I just wrote her a check. I was like, “Here, go buy everybody some books.” She gave all these kids books. She’s like, “Some of these kids had never owned a book before in their lives. Now they could bring home a book. They were so excited to own their own book.” I was like, that’s amazing. That’s one of the things that made me happiest this year to do. Put that on a much bigger scale, that’s probably a better — .

Malcolm: I’m telling you, when we go into these Title I schools in very low-income communities, you give a child a book, they’re trying to give it back because no one’s ever given them anything. It’s astonishing, even what I’ve experienced coming from a similar community, but there are some communities that are way more needy that what I experienced. Doing it for them is a big part of why I do it. Tell me why you started the podcast. I’m curious.

Zibby: Why did I start the podcast? I didn’t even mean to the start the podcast. The short answer is I am a writer. I love to write. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. I had been writing, recently, a lot of parenting essays, not how to, like, I’m crying on the bathroom floor, are you doing that too? More like that. My husband one night said, “You should put all your essays into a book.” I said, “Ugh, moms don’t have time to read books.” Then I thought, oh, that’s funny. I’ll make that my book title. Turns out, publishers didn’t think that was funny. The advice I got is that they wouldn’t. Maybe I shouldn’t have listened, but I listened. Then another friend said, “While you’re building up –” I wasn’t even on social media. I had no following. I had nothing, just some freelance articles. She said, “Why don’t you start a podcast?” I said, great, I’ll use the title for that book, and I’ll do a podcast. I was going to start by reading — I’m always sending articles to friends and things. I’ll start by just reading great articles and essays. Then I realized that was illegal. I couldn’t do that without permission. I thought, well, I’ll try interviewing authors. I knew two authors. I’ll see how that goes. I just started. I was like, oh, my gosh, I love this. I love this so much.

Malcolm: That’s impressive. So where’s your book?

Zibby: I have an anthology coming out in February. I actually have two anthologies and two children’s books that I have deals for now.

Malcolm: Congratulations.

Zibby: I’m doing that, but I have lots more writing that I want to do. Now I don’t have time.

Malcolm: Since I know you, do I get a free book? No, I’m kidding.

Zibby: Yes, you do. I’m giving my book to everybody who’s been on my podcast.

Malcolm: Really? That’s nice.

Zibby: I’ll ask for your address through email later. I’ll send you one. If you want to contribute, my next — it’s all written by guests who have been on my podcast, writing essays. I would love you to do my next one. It’s not coming out until next November. We’re still getting some submissions for that if you have any interest.

Malcolm: I have a ton of interest. That’s really cool. Isn’t it amazing how that takes place? You start this journey with no anticipation or — expectation is the word — expectation to go anywhere. By the time you look up, you’re like, wow, I have three books that I’m responsible for sharing with the world. It’s kind of cool. I had a similar experience. I self-published originally because I wrote the story in college. I wrote The Magician’s Hat while I was in college. Because of NCAA rules, I was restricted from signing with publishers and taking money and stuff like that. That’s why I decided to self-publish. I wasn’t very patient. I did it with no expectation. I just had this belief that — I’m an athlete. For some odd reason, people think I have something worthwhile to say, so maybe I should think of something worthwhile to share. That’s what got me into writing. It’s me realizing where I was positioned in life and trying to find some valuable way to inspire someone else outside of catching the pass.

Zibby: Why have you not written a memoir yet?

Malcolm: I don’t think I’m that interesting.

Zibby: Yes, you are. You have a great book in you.

Malcolm: I don’t know. I get bored with myself, actually. That’s why I do so many different things.

Zibby: I think there’s a story in there. It doesn’t have to be that long. I’m sure you have a ton on your plate, but I think you should write a memoir. I think it would be really inspiring. It would get more people reading, get more people helping.

Malcolm: Maybe your books will inspire me.

Zibby: Okay, fine. I will let you go. Thank you so much. I will text you about writing for this anthology. Stay in touch. I’ll send you a copy of the book. Thank you for coming on my podcast. Now go relieve your partner and go spend some time with your baby.

Malcolm: This was fun. I enjoyed it. Thank you for having me. I’d love to stay engaged however I can. This is cool.

Zibby: I love this too. This is great. Thank you. You’re really inspiring. You’re hardworking and driven. I love it. It’s awesome.

Malcolm: Same to you. Give yourself credit. You’re doing it with four children. I’m doing it as a lazy dad. More kudos to you than me.

Zibby: I don’t think so, but thanks a lot. I’ll be in touch. Thanks, Malcolm. Buh-bye.