September 28, 2021
by Malcolm Mitchell, author, child literacy advocate and NFL Super Bowl champion
I love to read. But this hasn’t always been the case.
Growing up and during my years as a student athlete at the University of Georgia, I was terrified my teachers might call upon me during class to read – or in my case, stumble – over a passage.
I was behind my peers – demoralized but not discouraged – but with lots of hard work and perseverance, reading went from rough and scary to soothing and enjoyable as it opened up so many new worlds and perspectives.
Sadly, though, children in underserved communities lack the resources to be not only literate – but digitally literate. Digital literacy, which means having the skills to live, learn and work in an increasingly digital world, is one of the most important skills that people need to thrive today.
However, UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union report two-thirds of school-age children around the globe lack in-home internet access. It’s hard to be digitally literate when you don’t have the resources to grow those skills, which was even more challenging last year when children were taken out of the classroom and into their homes for their lessons.
Some had parents at home to help guide them. They had the technology tools they needed to succeed. Others did not. The digital divide widened. Those with the monetary means had at-home internet access to keep learning. Meanwhile, those without suffered.
Pew Research Center found the “homework gap” – school-age children that lack the connectivity to complete their schoolwork at home – is more pronounced for Black, Hispanic and lower-income homes. Further, a quarter of Black teens said they often or sometimes cannot complete their homework assignments due to lack of reliable computer or internet access.
I feel for these students because I, too, used to be a student without resources while growing up in Valdosta, Ga. When I started UGA on a football scholarship, I read at an 8th-grade level – fearless playing football but fearful and self-conscious because of my subpar reading skills. I started small, picking up one children’s book at a time and improved my reading ability. Eventually, books helped me expand my curiosity, creativity and learning. Today there are so many tools available online that gamify reading and provide extra support to children that need coaching. I want to do my part to make these tools more accessible.
Let’s share the magic of reading and drive digital equity.
After graduating from UGA and during my time with the New England Patriots, I became an author and founded the Share the Magic Foundation, which is dedicated to improving childhood literacy among minority students through in-school programs, virtual reading challenges and community partnerships. I want to instill my love of reading and learning in children, regardless of their background and circumstance.
More recently, I partnered with Cox to support its Connect2Compete program, which provides affordable internet access with wifi to low-income, K-12 students and their families including free digital literacy resources in the Cox Digital Academy.
Internet connectivity is vital for today’s kids to succeed. Without it, they will find reading and school challenging. Connect2Compete offers an affordable option for families, and my hope is that an internet connection unlocks joy, passion and a world of opportunity for kids that need it most.
Through programs like Connect2Compete, we, as a society, can drive digital equity. We can help instill a love of learning, reading and digital literacy in every child, regardless of his or her resources or circumstance.
I’m proof that it’s possible. If I can conquer my fear of reading, author two books and become an advocate for literacy and narrowing the digital divide, I know that others with similar backgrounds can find success as well.
Although I am fortunate to have been a part of a team that won the Super Bowl, my accomplishments in youth literacy and focus on digital equity make me even prouder.
Our children are our future. Let’s work together through initiatives like Connect2Compete to make sure every child can connect to the internet and fulfill their dreams.