Do­ing it for fam­ily

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD - Mbar­ber@times­dis­ Twit­ter: @RTD_MikeBar­ber

Cook still goes back to Mosby of­ten, every other week in the sum­mer. He still gets his hair cut by Big Nor­man, still loves to eat at his fa­vorite res­tau­rant, DaVinci, a few blocks away.

Mostly, though, he goes back for fam­ily. His mother still lives in the same apart­ment where she’s lived for more than 30 years. These days, she doesn’t bother run­ning when she hears gun­fire. In­stead, Cook said, she stands in front of her home and screams, “I’m fed up.”

Cook said he uses most of the money from his Pell grant — the fed­eral fi­nan­cial aid de­signed to help kids with­out the means to pay for school get a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion — to pay his mother’s rent.

Af­ter all, he can re­call be­ing at home when the only food in the house was “two packs of noo­dles.” His mother split the noo­dles among her four chil­dren, then sat hun­gry, watch­ing them eat.

“Ev­ery­thing I do, I do for my fam­ily,” he said. “It’s re­ally a strug­gle back there. They have noth­ing. We came from noth­ing, so I’m try­ing to make it to some­thing, so I can give them some­thing.”

His coaches know that’s the main force that has driven Cook to over­come so much.

“I think that’s one of his whys,” Pop­pinga said. “We say, ‘What is your why? What keeps you go­ing? What makes you get up in the morn­ing? What makes you want to come to prac­tice and play well?’ I think his fam­ily is his main why.”

Cook wants to make it to the NFL, wants to earn the kind of pay­checks that will “put his mom in a house on the hill,” as his In­sta­gram bio used to read.

“That’s my goal, man,” Cook said. “I want to get my mom out of the projects. I can’t stand that she’s still there.”

Yet Cook said he wouldn’t be where he is with­out the tough-love lessons he learned in Mosby.

“Mosby showed me how to live life,” he said.

Cook be­lieves things have got­ten worse in Mosby since he was a kid.

“It comes to a point where kids can’t go out­side and play like they want to play and be kids,” he said, shak­ing his head. “It was dif­fer­ent when I was lit­tle. You had your typ­i­cal drug deal­ers and ev­ery­one out there, but when some­thing was go­ing down, they’d say, ‘Get in the house.’ Now, they’re just shoot­ing in broad day­light, with­out a care in the world for who’s out there.”

In his old neigh­bor­hood, he’s now a rare ex­am­ple for the next gen­er­a­tion to look up to.

“He’s done good,” Big Nor­man said. “He’s a good role model.”

Sit­ting on a bench a few feet away from Big Nor­man, 44-year-old Richie Brown said the neigh­bor­hood is proud of Cook.

“It’s a suc­cess story,” Brown said. “I’m proud of him, to see him do it. You don’t see too many kids from this area com­ing up like that, es­pe­cially from Mosby.”

In the early evening, as the sun set on a foot­ball field near Mosby Court, Cook’s high school bas­ket­ball coach, Dar­ryl Watts, watched that next gen­er­a­tion prac­tice foot­ball.

“I told him, ‘Every chance you get, you’ve got to let the kids know, not only at Arm­strong, but at Mosby recre­ation, that if you can do it, they can do it as well,’” Watts said. “I’m look­ing at kids right now in our foot­ball pro­gram as they prac­tice. Not too long ago, that was Mal­colm.”

Mal­colm Cook grew up know­ing any day could be his last. A fright­en­ing med­i­cal con­di­tion re­minded him that re­al­ity will never be too far be­hind him.

But Cook also knows his next day could be his best.

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