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Malachai Coleman: A celebrated Bruin

Malachai was passionate about many different hobbies, like snowboarding and playing the guitar. Photo courtesy of Erin Silva.

Beloved senior Malachai Coleman tragically passed away on Feb. 7. Malachai’s passing was very sudden and has cast a somber feeling over the school. The week of his death has been lacking his flamboyant energy that lit up the hallways. Malachai left an impression on everyone he met and was loved dearly by many members of the school community. 

One of Malachai’s most notable attributes was his energy and presence. 

Malachai’s grandmother Laurie Millar provided how she viewed him throughout the years of knowing him. 

“He was big, bold, honest, and loving. I guess I could say that. Big energy guy,” said Millar. 

Dance teacher Gaby Blaney also took note of Malachai’s big presence.. 

“Big. He filled the room. He was just an incredible soul, you could just tell, very confident and big,” said Blaney. 

Digital Media Arts teacher Mike DeCicco agrees that Coleman had a big personality. 

“He literally filled the room up with energy whenever he came in. Malachai never snuck up on you. You knew when he was around, and for me, he was this positive energy that he filled you with,” said DeCicco. “He was passionate about everything, and so whatever he was doing he was giving it 100 percent. That energy has a way of just filling up the space around him.” 

His energy varied from day to day of course, but underneath the shell of excitement was a mature and intelligent young man. Campus Supervisor Bron Fariss noticed this. 

“I thought his energy, most of the time, was very calm and intelligent. He had a certain kind of intelligence about him; he just kind of understood things that were going on around him,” he said.

It was not uncommon for Malachai to showcase his bold personality. Teachers and staff of course noticed it, and his friends and peers were able to witness this every day. 

Senior and Executive Editor of the Literary Magazine, Madalyn Werntz, had him on her team and was able to enjoy that experience. 

“I think of Malachai as a bubbly, energetic, positive-mindset-ed person who is entitled to live life, to experience life as a person to the highest extent that he possibly can,” she said. “At school, Malachai was very positive and energetic and just like, when you were around him it was contagious, the smiles were contagious.”

His smile was one of his largest identifiers. English teacher Toby Barmeyer agrees. 

“I honestly remember his giant smile. I feel like that smile kind of represents him and the way he was,” she said. 

DeCicco noticed this as well.

“When I think of Malachai, I think about his smile. He always had a smile and this look in his eyes that he was thinking two steps ahead of you,” he said.

Perhaps the most important identifier was his iconic daily outfit, the classic Hawaiian shirt and hat. 

“I always think of his hat,” senior Grayson Scheda said. “He always had the hat and the Hawaiian shirts. 

Barmeyer agrees and adds how his shirts are iconic to him. 

“His shirts, I feel like, reflect him too. Like they were all colorful and I feel like that’s like him— he brought a lot of color to wherever he went,” she said. 

Fariss also appreciated his sense of style. 

“He dressed very well — I liked the way he dressed, he had some cool hats he always wore. I liked his hats, and he would wear some Hawaiian shirts and he just got a peaceful vibe about him,” he said. 

Malachai being himself was seemingly a normal thing for him. However, that wasn’t always the case throughout the duration of his life. Millar shares the difference Bear River had made for him. 

“He wanted to be himself at Bear River and everybody let him be himself. I just appreciate all of the things Bear River has done for him,” she said. “Malachai had a lot of challenges to overcome and I believe that this year at Bear River, due to the wonderful staff and students, he found his place and he was able to overcome all of them. All of his challenges.”

Teachers and staff knew this and helped him thrive. His self advocating was his path to success and allowed him to rise up. 

“He was very honest about himself and who he is and it seemed like he knew who he was — he was clear and was upfront about his mental health issues and struggles and he was honest about it,” said Barmeyer. “He would say ‘sometimes I just need to go outside’ and I was like ‘OK, just let me know’. So I like that because some students try to hide it, because they feel like it’s a flaw or something bad, and he didn’t. It was just a part of him.” 

Counselor KC Wachs-Worden witnessed and helped Coleman through his journey at Bear River. She understood his struggles and felt very proud of him for all he accomplished in his time at the school. 

“When Malachai first came, he was really struggling and I feel I was really privileged because I got to see an inside viewing of him growing, coming into his own and finding happiness here,” she said. “It was awesome to see him get to a place where he was just thriving.” 

DeCicco agreed and provided insight on how his path was looking. 

“When he first came here, it was going to be a real struggle for him to graduate. Seeing how much progress he made and the path he put himself on was really inspiring to me. Now I can tell other kids that you can do this because I’ve seen it,” he said. “I saw what is possible when you bring that passion and determination. It impacted me as a first-year teacher as I’m still learning my way, and seeing a student that wanted to take his future in his own hands like that was really rewarding.” 

Malachai’s interests included cooking, art, mountain biking, snowboarding and working on cars.  He even helped his grandmother, Millar, through an unexpected situation. 

“I took him cross country skiing one time up at the Donner campground area. We were a long way from the parking lot. And teenagers aren’t usually that compassionate with their grandparents but he was amazing on that excursion because what happened to me about halfway through,” she said. “My boot had ripped almost all the way off, and he goes ‘Oh grandma don’t worry! I’ll take care of you!’ And he was right beside me. He was such a trooper and never let me get lost or behind.”

When Barmeyer had him in her English class, he left some positive memories. 

“Of course, a good example would be him reading the Crucible, which everyone is going to remember because he actually was basically acting and everyone was paying attention,” she said. “He made John Proctor a full-of-life character, and I’ll still remember a lot of the phrasing that was in the story. He would make it very dramatic. And so yeah, he just made me happy in class.”

DeCicco was able to enjoy a field trip with him.

“We went on a field trip in the beginning of January to the Sacramento Art Museum with my Literary Mag class. He told me, before we went, that he takes a long time at museums because he really likes to really look at every exhibit,” he said. “We were looking at the Monet to Matisse exhibit and some of the other students were done, but Malachai was still near the beginning. I told him to take as much time as you need and I’ll just hang out in here with you. So the two of us spent around 45 minutes just looking at all these French impressionist paintings from some of the great masters. We were looking at them from different angles, and you could tell the way in which that art really spoke to him. It was a very important experience for him, I think, and he soaked up every moment of that field trip. I think he enjoyed being able to take his time and really explore something that was that beautiful and powerful. Being able to share that with him, just the two of us, seeing how he saw the artwork was a very cool moment for me.”

Senior Noah Siegenthaler shared a class with him and explained the day-to-day interactions he had with Coleman. 

“A lot of the time when he would come to journalism, we would sit on the green couch by the teacher’s desk and we’d chat about what’s happening in life, what’s going on,” he said. “He’d always find these cool videos on Instagram of people doing cool skateboard tricks. I remember when he first got these nice yellow shoes that looked super good and he was super proud of them and I was really happy for him.”

Grayson Scheda experienced math class with him and enjoyed the little things Malachai would do to make him laugh. 

“I used to sit next to him at the beginning of school, I used to sit next to him in math. Almost every day he would take my notebook and just doodle on the corner of it even if I was working,” said Scheda. 

Losing a family member or friend can be extremely difficult to cope with, so grief counselors and therapists are on campus in order to help. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the situation, talking to someone can help, and you should take advantage of the resources available. 

There is also a way to support Malachai’s family through a GoFundMe here

Based on all of the positive and kind responses from a variety of people shows just how much Malachai was cherished throughout the school. His passing was proof that the popular song by Billy Joel was correct. “Only the Good Die Young.”

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Malachai Coleman: A celebrated Bruin