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Celebrating Local Black Heroes: Josephine Brown

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan is proud to celebrate Local Black Heroes in honor of Black History Month. Join us on social media and our website throughout February to learn more about the impact of local heroes in your community.

Josephine “Jo” Brown is a diligent leader in racial healing and anti-racism work. She retired from Kalamazoo County Government as the Director of Human Resources. Her retirement, however, has not ended her efforts to make a lasting impact on Southwest Michigan

Generosity and Heart

The impact of generosity has never been lost on Brown, who grew up as one of 10 children. Brown’s brother Phil Mitchell has said, “…there would be extra children in the Mitchell family Christmas photos… because [my] mother [the late Jeanne Mitchell] would invite them in if there were problems in their own homes, or if they weren’t able to celebrate Christmas with their own families.”

The late Philemon Mitchell, Brown’s father, was said to always be “rooting for the underdog.” Brown explains that her father would advocate continuously for those who had the odds stacked against them.

Along with her parents, Brown shares that she is inspired by her aunts Bunnie and Donna, who provided encouragement and saw in her what she struggled to see in herself.

Generosity and Action

The generosity and heart of Brown’s family made a distinct and lasting impact on her. Due to their influence, Brown has spent countless hours volunteering at the Gospel Mission and supporting local safe-houses for recovering addicts. She has spent her life participating in marathons, helping with back-to-school kicks offs, and donating her time, money, and talents to ensure the greater good of her community.


In 2019, Brown won the YWCA Kalamazoo Dorothy I. Height Social Justice Innovation award. This well-deserved award, which Brown is the only recipient of, is awarded to a person who exemplifies the memory of Dorothy I. Height (1912- 2010).  An American civil rights and women’s rights activist, Height dedicated her life to serving African American women. Height focused on illiteracy, voter awareness, and unemployment.

In her retirement, Brown has sat, or sits, on the boards of the NAACP, YWCA Kalamazoo, Cradle Kalamazoo, and ERACCE. These organizations all work toward racial healing and anti-racism. She shares that she hopes that her efforts impact and ignite change in the community.

“We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most skills and those who know how to manipulate the system. But also for and with those who often have so much to give but never get the opportunity.” – Dorothy Irene Height

The ways she generously shares her talents and heart absolutely exemplify the memory of Dorothy I. Height. Southwest Michigan is a more just, equitable place because of Josephine Brown’s efforts.

Find Local Black Heroes throughout the month of February on social media and on our website. Visit for more information about how you can ignite the power and potential of youth in Southwest Michigan.