Mitchell gives back to the community that raised him


Obalolulwa Olaniran

Oronde Mitchell serves the people of Montgomery, Alabama, through his work with Montgomery Public Schools (MPS) and as the City Councilman of District 6.

Camille Zanders, Senior Staff Reporter/Writer

As the professional world becomes more competitive each day, it is rare to find an individual who devotes their work to the service of others. The selfless act of service requires one to put their struggles and wants to the side to benefit those in need, a requirement that Alabama State alumnus Oronde Mitchell makes daily, as he serves the people of Montgomery, Alabama, through his work with Montgomery Public Schools (MPS) and as the City Councilman of District 6.
Mitchell works to ensure every individual, young or old, knows they are seen, heard, and valued.
“I want to represent the people that feel they do not have a voice,” he said.
A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Mitchell grew up in a family of those willing to serve. As the second child to the late Mary P. Mitchell, a former director of academic advising at Alabama State University, and John A. Mitchell Sr., the first black postmaster for Montgomery, he remembers giving back to his community at any occasion.
“Before my mom passed away, she would fix Thanksgiving dinners and put them in to-go boxes,” he said. “There were maybe thirty houses on our street, but every senior citizen got one of those to-go boxes fixed by my mom and dad every Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Mitchell continued his dedication to community service as a teenager at Robert E. Lee High School, where he participated in Epsilon Psi Phi, a student-run fraternity. While a member, he organized a number of opportunities for himself and his classmates to give back to not only their school but to their neighborhoods. Most proud of cleaning and renovating the school campus, Mitchell remembers feeling nothing but pride.
“When we got together and did the cleanup, the staff, faculty, and community were just amazed that we wanted to give back in that way,” he said.
Upon his graduation in 1991, he decided to follow his family’s legacy by attending Alabama State University. With his parents, older brother, and a number of other distant relatives, all alumni, Mitchell felt a personal connection to Hornet Nation.
“As a child, I remember seeing the Alabama State Marching Band, being on campus, going to football games, and more,” he said. “[Hornet pride] was in my blood at an early age.”
Enrolling during the beginning of the technological revolution, he initially declared himself a computer information systems major. However, he soon decided that his heart and passions lay in a more familiar career path.
“I went to a private school in elementary, and my mother taught at that school, so I have always seen her in that field of education,” Mitchell said. “There was a passion [for education] that I knew I had, and even though I tried something different, my mom knew it was in me.”
As a sophomore, he changed his major to early childhood with plans to pursue a career in education, following his mother’s footsteps. Knowing the university’s rich history of producing accredited educators, Mitchell was then confident in his choice of school and study.
In the spring of 1993, he joined the brotherhood known as Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. While he values all the perks and experiences that come with Greek life, he most appreciates the community service opportunities presented to the organization. He remembers his chapter adopting Goode Street Elementary, now known as E. D. Nixon Elementary School, where they helped out in any and every way possible.
“I really enjoyed that community service and going over there,” Mitchell said. “You know that played into my major. We would go to read stories to those students, clean the campus, and just give them something to be proud about.”
Along with his participation with his fraternity, he also worked closely with Kenneth Dean, J.D., the general manager of The Hornet Tribune.
“I was a gopher,” he said when describing his title with The Hornet Tribune. “I went wherever Mr. Dean wanted me to go and did whatever Mr. Dean wanted me to do.”
Though he regards it as eclectic work, Mitchell also considers it the source of his most memorable moments as a Hornet.
“Just going in there and being able to talk to Mr. Dean for hours at a time,” he said in remembrance of his favorite times. “Just being able to absorb all of the information that he had, seeing how the newspaper worked and getting to meet so many people, I would not have met had I not been working [with The Hornet Tribune].”
Along with Dean, he also highly valued Michael Romanoski, Ed.D, a notable professor of the College of Education. Mitchell appreciates the personal relationships that Romanowski made sure to establish with his students. Not only did Romanowski provide lessons following the curriculum, but he also supported students through the lessons of life.
“When I did not come to class, Dr. Romanoski would see me on campus, and he would say, ‘Hey! I had your brother John, and I know who your mother, Mary Mitchell, is. The next time you do not want to come to my class, I am going to find one of the two.’” Mitchell said.
Those lessons and support carried him throughout his student years and finally to his graduation in the fall of 1991. With a bachelor’s degree in early childhood, he began teaching second grade at Thelma S. Morris Elementary School in Montgomery, Alabama. Serving his community through education, Mitchell felt that he was exactly where he needed to be.
“With early childhood, you can mold those young minds and be impressionable on them at an early age,” he said. “That was the most fulfilling because those kids came in not knowing, or not having, the knowledge, and me being able to bring them to the point they obtain that knowledge was a joy in itself to me.”
While in this position, he also started ‘Men in Motion,’ a program where the school’s male teachers mentored their male students in an arranged setting. Men in Motion organized student basketball teams, camping trips, took students to ASU sports games, and so much more. Knowing the importance of strong male figures in a young boy’s life, Mitchell served to fill that void.
“So many of our Black families do not have fathers in the home anymore, so they do not have that positive role model,” he said. “We made sure we made a positive impression on those young men so they could always look up to us.”
By instilling the values of accountability, respect, and love, he plants the necessary seeds for his students’ growth.
At Thelma S. Morris Elementary School, he began an incentive program encouraging students to strive for perfect attendance. With Mitchell promising to pay each winner $50, his efforts proved successful as he awarded 19 students in the first year.
“My father and I gave $950 out of our pocket,” he said. “So many people saw what I was doing, so the next year, it turned from one participating school to six!”
The ‘Perfect Attendance Program’ eventually multiplied from six schools to 12. As it gained popularity, funding was received from the city of Montgomery and the Montgomery County Commissioners Office. Over the program’s four years of service, approximately $25,000 was granted to the deserving students.
“It was something that everyone bought into,” he said. “I was just happy to be able to organize it.”
Mitchell then temporarily withdrew from MPS to pursue a new entrepreneurial venture. He opened ‘City Hands Car Wash’ in 2003, a community car wash that gave men with troubled pasts a stable place of employment. Though serving a different demographic of the community, he still found a way to give back to the few who needed it most.
“So many times when we get into trouble, people think that our pasts define us, that we will always be that same person,” he said. “I gave those men the opportunity not only to provide for themselves, but also their families, and encouraged them to move to other things.”
While leading his team at City Hands Car Wash, Mitchell received his second degree from Alabama State in 2008 – a master’s in early childhood. With his passion still lying in the school system, he returned to the classroom in 2012 as a third grade teacher at Morningview Elementary School. A year later, he accepted a position with MPS as a district resource office, most commonly referred to as a truancy officer.
In his current role as a district resource officer, he is responsible for the attendance records of the 22 schools of Montgomery County. He watches for irregular patterns in students’ attendance and investigates cases of students with high rates of class absences. Once identifying the root of the problem, he links said student and their family to whatever resources are necessary for success.
“When I go to the students’ houses, the first thing they say is, ‘Hey, I do not have my uniform,’” said Mitchell. “Or, ‘I do not have money for my book fees’ I just have to make sure they have everything they need. That is why it is so important I link them to the correct services.”
From his work with the MPS, Mitchell realized he related to the families he serviced in many ways. He realized there are many systems in place that have failed them and believed it is his mission to correct it. In 2015, he ran for city councilman to advocate for those who would otherwise be underrepresented.
Though he did not win the 2015 election, he gained a strong enough following to launch ‘We Are One,’ a community service organization catering to the people of Montgomery. Honoring Mitchell’s roots, ‘We Are One’ has hosted Thanksgiving dinner giveaways, organized senior citizen proms, family fun days, and so much more.
“We just wanted to bring the families back together,” he said. “That is what a lot of us were missing, that family time …We developed a bond, a friendship, and a family. That is why I was able to do so many things with ‘We Are One.’”
In 2019, Mitchell joined the race for city councilman for the second time and proved victorious. Since then, he has been serving as the district resource officer within the MPS and as the city councilman of district 6 in Montgomery, Alabama. As the councilman, he is responsible for over 22,000 constituents, each having their struggles and needs. While the span of his reach sometimes poses problems, he sees it as an opportunity to serve as many people as possible.
So far, in office, Mitchell has organized a number of things such as a gas card giveaway totaling $8,000 to senior citizens, additional work with ‘We Are One,’ and more. Though he is proud of all initiatives in place, he is most fulfilled by one that also partners with a passion for youth education. Dedicated to the development of young men, Mitchell has organized an intramural basketball league for teenage boys ages 13 to 18. Though it is a basketball program, it highlights youth development by exposing the boys to real-life experiences and educational programs.
“Basketball was the draw to get them in, but the youth development part is what I was most proud of,” said Mitchell. “We had counselors. We had substance abuse speakers. We just exposed them to everyday life.”
From this program, along with his previous others, Mitchell has established himself as a personable and productive leader of District 6. His lasting relationships with his constituents are what he values most in his work, as it fulfills his goal of making sure every individual is seen and accounted for. He recognizes that his work means nothing if he has touched no one.
“Success is measured by the legacy you leave,” he said. “I want to make sure when you are talking about Councilman Mitchell, you are talking about a man that represents everybody, no matter race, no matter gender, no matter sexual preference. That you have a person that will come where you are and will try and understand any situation, and then will work on making that situation better.”
Along with his love for community, Mitchell credits his success in both of his careers to his punctuality and approachability. He carries the idea that in order to lead the community, he must be one with it.
“I am always smiling, so you know, ‘Hey man, this guy is approachable. He is just a normal guy,’” he said. “That is how I want all my constituents, or parents, to see me.”
Mitchell also credits much of his success to his passion for education and serving. This is a passion he wishes for all students studying education to adopt. He emphasizes that education is a field that can only be fulfilling if one’s whole heart is set on it.
“Students can see the trueness in your heart. You have to have it in your heart,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell advises all ASU students to make the most of their time at the Hornet’s Nest.
“Everything I did at ASU prepared me to be the leader I am today,” he said.
He accentuated the knowledge, resources, and support ASU offers its students and urges them to take advantage of them all.
“It only takes one person to believe in you outside of yourself,” Mitchell said. “When you have someone to believe in you, you will believe in yourself, and those are the type of people I encountered at Alabama State.”