Malik Kofi playing the cello: photo courtesy Mario Page
Malik Kofi is extraordinarily talented; a child prodigy, musical genius, awe-inspiring orator, with intellectual gifts well beyond his years. Not only is the 11-year-old academically brilliant but his superior musical abilities leaves audiences spellbound. An impressive multi-instrumentalist, Kofi plays the piano, drums and guitar. However, his passion is for the cello.
“Malik is a musical prodigy,” says Craig Hulgren, a cellist in the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, who has been Kofi’s teacher for the past five years. “He has advanced technological and interpretative abilities as a child. Beyond that he also puts in the hard work to develop those talents.”
Born into a working-class family in Birmingham, Alabama, Kofi’s unique story is a testimony to excellence against all odds. The product of a teenage mom, Kofi’s maternal grandmother, Ruby Cox, has raised him as her own since he was an infant. She says Kofi came out of the womb curious and eager to learn.
As far-fetched as it sounds, Cox says he started talking in sentences at eight months old, by the age of 2 he was putting puzzles together. He had mastered reading music at 4. When it became obvious that Kofi had something special, 59-year-old Cox, a divorced mom of four who never finished college, took the decision to homeschool her youngest grandchild along with his older twin brothers, Robert and Reuben.
She says she has a disciplined schedule and keeps abreast of what is being taught at top boarding schools. “In order for them to compete with the best in the world they need to be able to perform at a certain level,” says Cox, who also put her own four children through college.
Indeed, the twins now aged 23, are also musically gifted and exceptionally bright. They passed their SAT college entrance exam at 12-years-old and both went off to college at sixteen.
Cox, who happens to be a strict vegan, can’t explain why Kofi is so bright but is convinced his diet is a factor. From the time he started eating solids he has been on a raw foods diet, eating mainly veg, fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and herbs in their whole, natural state.
“Junk food is like any substance abuse,” says Cox. “Kids that eat junk don’t focus, can’t sit down, are noisy and disruptive and are not imaginative.”
Although the family has a computer they do not own a television set or have access to an internet. If Kofi needs to do research he visits libraries and perhaps takes out a CD or DVD for background information, says Cox. She believes having no technological distractions, “keeps him focused and creative.”
Those that interact with Kofi say despite his slight 5-foot-1 frame, he has the maturity and charismatic confidence of a fully grown man.
“He’s an extremely talented cellist, very creative, mature, has stage presence, is open to learning and has strong ideas of his own” says internationally renowned cellist Udi Bar-David of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who is Kofi’s mentor and ad hoc teacher.
“When anyone works smart they can become successful in anything,” says Kofi. “You have to have a good work ethic.”
The family are economically disadvantaged but have never ever allowed their social-economic status to get in the way of big dreams. “Poor is a state of mind,” says Cox. “My children never knew they were poor unless someone told them.”
The twins have temporarily put their studies on hold, with each working two jobs to support the family, pay the bills, and help cover the costs of Kofi’s costly music lessons. Both twins plan to attend medical school.
As well as his music and public speaking engagements, Kofi is busy preparing for his SAT college entrance exam in May. “He’s working to make a perfect score,” says Cox.
At first he was focused on place at an Ivy League institution but now Kofi has his heart set on Johns Hopkins University or the Curtis Institute of Music, one of the top music conservatories in the world. Curtis not only offers academic rigor but serves as a training ground for gifted young musicians.
Kofi says he’d love to do a double major in Music and Architecture. “My ambition is to perform in one of the best orchestras in the world. But I’d also like to do something independent of cello, like architecture, create my own community or something like that.”
“If he gets into one of those schools me and Malik will pack our bags,” says Cox.
The tale is so compelling that when former Emmy-award winning former television news anchor, Malena Cunningham, met Kofi at a fundraiser in Alabama she felt duty-bound to tell his story to the world.
“It wasn’t just his vocabulary, but his conviction and the way he was saying it,” says Cunningham, who now runs her own multi-media company, Strategic Media Relations. “I gave his grandmother my card and said I wanted to make a documentary.”
Cunningham says although Kofi is academically and musically-gifted he owes much to the drive and passion of his devoted grandmother.
“If Ruby Cox wasn’t the type of grandmother she is, he’d be a bright, frustrated, African-American child, lost in the system because he didn’t have the right push from a parent,” she says.
“Ruby saw in her children, especially her grandchildren, and in particular Malik, the ability to help them grow. She has nurtured and given them opportunities despite their socio-economic background.
“If we had more parents, not just grandparents, who were as tenacious as Ruby, we wouldn’t have a generation of lost children.”
Cunningham hopes her coming documentary, which is now in post-production, will be an outlet to provide financial support for the family.
The first screening of Little Music Manchild: The Malik Kofi Story scheduled for April in Birmingham, Alabama, will be fundraising event to support Ruby and Kofi’s music fees. Further down the line, Cunningham hopes to screen the film at festivals across the country.
article by Kunbi Tinuoye via thegrio.com