Tears still build and roll off the eye even after hearing Malachi Coleman’s story for a countless time. A young man—a child, really—left to provide for his sister and self after their father passed and their mother suffered from substance abuse. Together they forged through the harshness of unhoused living and the pitfalls of the foster care system.
Miranda and Craig Coleman watched their son on the projection screen from behind the assembled tables at Big Red Restaurant. On screen, Malachi told Kelly Clarkson his story during a taping of her show, his parents sitting just beside him on the studio couch. Fly Like Chi, Malachi’s nonprofit built to provide activity opportunities for those in foster care, held a watch party for the episode. Friends and supporters of all ages attended on Monday. They sat through Clarkson’s interviews with actors Sterling K. Brown and Jaren Lewison before the episode’s final two segments. Malachi, the real one not on the projection screen, crooked his neck as he watched. The room clapped with the studio audience when he finished telling Clarkson his story.
Many Nebraskans know Malachi’s story. They knew him at Lincoln East and learned more about him as his recruiting profile bloomed. This winter, shortly after signing with Nebraska, he was profiled by the CBS Evening News. Clarkson wanted to hear his story for herself and flew the family to Los Angeles. They filmed the episode for Clarkson’s talk show that averaged 1.37 million viewers in its most recent season. Now all those people know his story too.
“We knew from the start, to hear him tell his story, it’s going to reach far and wide because he tells it so genuinely,” Miranda said on Monday. “It touches you every time you hear it. It’s not a surprise that it went big, but as a mom who’s from Lincoln, Nebraska, getting on Kelly Clarkson Show was crazy.”
Thinking back to taping the episode, the whole thing didn’t hit Malachi until the green room of Clarkson’s show. Kelly Clarkson wanted him on her show? That stuff doesn’t happen. Malachi doesn’t have a favorite Clarkson song. Admittedly, he wasn’t that familiar with her music until she invited him onto her show.
The assembled watch party heard a big announcement tease as the talk show went to commercial break. Miranda walked up to the front table to sit next to Malachi. Muchachos owner Nick Maestas, sitting off to the side of the group next to Craig, received a shoutout and ovation during the show when Malachi mentioned their partnership. Malachi studied NSAA laws when Nebraska’s NIL legislation passed and wanted to meet with Maestas about doing something. Sales of the “Giverito” benefit Fly Like Chi, which is now off the ground with six board members—Miranda, Craig, mentor Raymonn Adams, Lincoln East counselor Katie Wenz, LPS teacher Craig Songster and career coach Darwin Archie. As of latest tabulations, Fly Like Chi has raised $14,000 and, along with more than 67 volunteers, provided 211 activities to 127 children. That’s not including the special announcement Clarkson teased, a $15,000 donation from Dude Wipes.
Those gathered, including Nebraska football player development assistant Jared Folks, applauded the announcement. Miranda passed out Dude Wipes-branded hats to celebrate. Kids directly impacted by Malachi’s nonprofit wore them and turned around for pictures. Barely out of high school, Malachi smiled and enjoyed that moment with them.
“I see a lot of pride when I look at all these kids,” he said on Monday. “I was in their shoes just a couple of years ago, I’ve been in Lincoln for 8 years now. Just to get them the help that I was able to warms your heart and make you feel good.”
This is what he envisioned when he heard Nebraska pass name, image and likeness legislation. He’s a standout football player (the place roared with cheers when Clarkson introduced him on the show as “one of the best football players in the country”) who sees football as a means to reach people. Malachi doesn’t want to be just a football player. He wants to be something more. And after sharing his story to a national television audience once more, Fly Like Chi ascends higher.