Doing it for family
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.