HUNT COLUMN: Chance encounters of the momentous kind

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, November 23, 2021

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By Cathy Hunt
Chairwoman, Troup County School Board

Every year at this time, a human interest story about an Arizona grandma and her 2016 texting mistake recirculates because it’s a huge heartwarmer. She thought she was texting an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner to her grandson, but she typed the wrong number. The young man who received the text politely advised her of her mistake, but followed up with a joking “Can I still get a plate though?”

The lady responded, “Of course. That’s what grandmas do…feed everyone.” So that year, and every year since, the young man and his girlfriend have a new family to share Thanksgiving with, even in 2020 after the lady’s husband had passed from Covid.

A couple of weeks ago, Malcolm Mitchell, former UGA star receiver and Patriots Super Bowl champ, visited LaGrange to speak to elementary students about his love of reading. He tells a wonderful story about his own highly significant chance encounter.

In his second year at the university, Malcolm got serious about self-improvement and expanding his horizons. Football had been his ticket out of poverty in south Georgia, but as he observed fellow college students conscientiously preparing for their futures, he knew he could be and should be more than a star athlete. It became clear to him that reading, something he’d never much cared about, could be a game-changer. So, he embarked on a self-prescribed program to better himself.

One day, while browsing in an Athens bookstore, he asked a lady standing nearby if she could recommend a good book. She did, they got to talking, and she told him about her book club. He asked if he could join, she ran it by the other members, and soon he was in. Malcolm became a much-loved regular in a book club full of middle-aged women. After he was drafted into the NFL, the ladies became huge Patriots fans.

When injuries cut his professional sports career short, his earlier realization that he needed to be more than an athlete had set him up for success in ways that a younger Malcolm could never have foreseen. Campaigning for literacy is now his guiding light.

From the website of his foundation: “Through literacy, Malcolm has authored and published children’s books, created a youth literacy initiative called Read with Malcolm, and established Share the Magic Foundation to transform lives through literacy.”

When he visited LaGrange, Malcolm shared that waiting until young adulthood to get serious about improving his reading skills was challenging. He likened the difficulty (specifically limited vocabulary) to learning a foreign language. Everyone knows that mastering a second language is much easier for children who grow up bilingual. Similarly, being encouraged to love reading and books early in life can make all the difference in not only achievement but also quality of life — as can the kindness of strangers.