Celebrating Local Black Heroes: Heather Mitchell
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan is proud to celebrate Local Black Heroes throughout the year. Sign up for our e.news to get updates in your inbox and learn more about the impact of local heroes in your community.
Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates the power in mentoring and caring for your community. Heather Mitchell mentors young people as the Teaching Artist for Education for the Arts, the dance teacher for Loy Norrix and Galesburg-Augusta schools, and the Youth Enrichment Coordinator at Rootead.
Mitchell sees the power in building relationships and pours her energy into supporting local youth. While some adults find it challenging to relate to teens and young adults, Mitchell feels it’s her duty because it comes so naturally to her.
Whether by guiding them to resources, sharing experiences with them, or by listening, Mitchell supports each youth she interacts with in powerful, dynamic ways.
Growing up in Southwest Michigan, Mitchell experienced racism heavily- particularly in early elementary. Her parents saw her shutting down, and knew they needed to move from Allegan County to be closer to family in Bangor. Mitchell felt much safer and supported there, but spent several more years unpacking the trauma and racism she experienced in her formative years.
Because of the racism and marginalization Mitchell experienced, she didn’t like who she was. A critic of her own hair and skin color, Mitchell constantly compared herself to her white classmates.
When Mitchell found dance, she discovered that movement and journaling helped her cope and process the deep sadness she felt. In her high school years, Mitchell began to grow into loving herself. When she entered college this journey continued, with influence from her African Studies professor, Heather Neff, who mentored Mitchell through those years.
Mitchell became pregnant in college and with support from her family and resources, transitioned into her new life as a single mom. She completed her degree despite the odds.
Mitchell also spent six years hiding the violence she endured in a relationship. This experience impacted her self-worth and self-esteem deeply. However, after leaving the relationship and gaining access to years of therapy and resources, Mitchell found herself in a healthier, happier place.
GOAL SETTING & FUEL
She recalls a book, Write It Down, Make It Happen, which emphasizes the importance of writing down your goals– even if you don’t believe they could possibly happen. Years later, when she reflected on the list of goals she wrote down, Mitchell was moved to tears seeing all of the things she had written down were brought to fruition.
Despite the adversities Mitchell experienced, she continued to reach toward her goals- even though they took longer to achieve than she ever anticipated.
Her tenacity, drive, and resilience are personal values that she is deeply proud of. The adversities she experienced fueled her desire to take care of others.
Mitchell hopes to impact others by empowering them to love themselves more and believe in themselves. She explains that she hopes the people she interacts with “lean into things that may appear uncomfortable at first, but are in line with what they dream about.” Further, she hopes to inspire others to be a little more lighthearted.
Finally, Mitchell shares, “Take good care of your body. Be happy with it. Move freely. Always dance!”
When she’s not providing a listening ear to someone in need or volunteering as a birth doula, Mitchell takes care of herself by spending time in nature. Whether next to the water or in a hammock under a tree, Mitchell enjoys time outside anywhere she can.
Caring deeply for others is not light work, and Mitchell notes that participating in self-care is something she’s had to intentionally work on. Fortunately, with help from her therapist and support from her friends and family, Mitchell has found 3 ways to care for herself:
- Laughter is the best medicine, and
- There is a huge benefit in breath work and
- Limiting time on social media
BECOMING A BIG
Heather knows that over 100 youth in Southwest Michigan are waiting for a mentor. She is answering the call and taking her community service one step further. She is signing up to be a Big. You can join her. It only takes two hours twice a month. Learn more at ThinkBigToday.org/volunteer.