My Hero, Col. Hubert Mitchell By Kate Singh
In contemporary American society, the media portrays the African American male to be controlling, aggressive, hypersexual, violent, and sometimes financially unstable. Popular culture today also depicts African American men as having a lack of presence in the family dynamics as far as providing emotional support to their partners and children. In addition, they are illustrated to make negative contributions by participating in gang activity and the distribution of narcotics throughout their communities. In reality, there are a number of successful, loving, caring and financially stable African American men who make profound contributions to their families and communities; my Uncle Col. Hubert Jerry Mitchell is an exemplary individual who breaks the stereotypes of the media and the society in which we live in.
Col. Hubert Mitchell, also known as Uncle Jerry was born and raised in a small town in Rome, Georgia with six of his siblings during the 1940s. He was the son of William Andrew Mitchell, a hard working African American man, a provider for his family and a man of morals and ethics and the baby boy to a ‘high-yellow’ Fannie Kate Alexander, a woman of strength and courage. While growing up, his parents were nurturing, loving, disciplining and understanding. During the interview, Mitchell shared that his parents were the epitome of good parents in regards to planning his future endeavors and leaving the South was a part of the plan.
Uncle Jerry admired his father for the gentleness he exhibited with his daughters, the respect for his wife and the determination to educate all of his children. Uncle Jerry quoted his father, “Study your math and science and you will make your own way”. His parents served a vital role in his life by instilling the confidence at a young age that he could reach the heights of all accomplishments by maintaining a positive attitude, treating all with respect and having the upmost faith and trust in God. Col. Mitchell’s father’s taught him that it is vital to be able to carry an interesting conversation with anyone and to be respectful, honest and trustworthy. His father also stressed the importance of making a name for himself and of leaving a mark in this world for others to reflect on.
As a child, there was a seven year age gap between his older siblings, William, Selvie and Phillips; as a result, he was raised with his three younger sisters, my mother Jane and my aunts Daphnie and Carolyn. In the interview Col. Mitchell stated, he felt as if he were raised in two families, the significant age gap which gave him the opportunity to admire his older siblings whom instilled in him a sense of hope in leaving the South. Col. Mitchell’s younger sisters allowed him to demonstrate ‘male masculinity’ by being their big brother and protecting them from the neighborhood bullies. Although, the children were diversified in age, they all maintained a sense of closeness and when they would return home, it was as if they never left.
In discussing childhood aspirations, Mitchell always wanted to fly jet planes, own a new car and travel to see the world. As of today, he has accomplished all three of his childhood goals. Upon completing his high school education, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, because his parents did not have the financial means to send him to university. He aspired to become a Police Officer; as a result, he studied Police Science and Criminology courses and minored in Chemistry at San Jose State University. After Mitchell’s active duty enlistment, he entered the active reserve and was confident and anticipated obtaining a position with the mobile Forensic Crime units in California. However, as fate would have it, the United States Air Force provided Mitchell with the opportunity to fly jets resulting in a lifelong career in the United States Air Force.
As an African American man pursuing a career within the US Military forces, many men were subjected to acts of overt racism and often times these acts still occur covertly today. Mitchell understood at an early age he was not competing on a leveled playing field which required him to learn the “Rules of Engagement” and how to apply them. One would describe the Rules of Engagement to provide political direction to military operations with confidence that the actions of the military personnel are conducted within a legally defensible framework, giving the commanders with a clear set of responsibilities. Once Col. Mitchell obtained the rank of Colonel, he opted for the most complex assignments and executed all his required duties to a high standard, while learning to multi-task and to visualize the big picture of a project with the end in sight. Col. Mitchell states that he had to accomplish a great deal in order to surpass his white counter parts.
Col. Mitchell is a family man first and a professional second. He openly states that family is everything to him and he is proud of both his immediate and extended family. He is happily married to Elli Mitchell and explained that being a good husband means being loyal, trustworthy, a good lover, and a friend. Col. Mitchell and Elli have two children, Michelle and Gerald whom are successful and well into their adult years. Col. Mitchell explains there are no struggles in being masculine, if you are confident and true to yourself, anyone will be prosperous in all facets of life.
In concluding the interview, Col. Mitchell explains that there were many challenges growing up in the South. The first was being considered a second class citizen regardless of your intellect, and having to be more efficient with less assistance than your white counter parts. Secondly, that chance of being murdered as a Black man and no one being held accountable for their actions was a heavy burden to carry. As any other minority group in the United States, Col. Mitchell believes segregation is absolutely wrong and no one could ever successfully live in a ‘separate, but equal’ society. Segregation allows for an individual to commit evil acts and not be held accountable for their actions. The Civil Rights movement provided an opportunity for all black people to act as a unit, eventually leading to justice and equality for all minorities.
According to Col. Mitchell, the Civil Rights movement afforded all African American people a sense of belonging in working together for a common goal of racial equality. Great leaders such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King used the same peaceful tactics to bring attention and change to racial injustices in two different political arenas, whereas, Malcolm X was an alternative to Dr. King and complemented his protest tactics. Once the Civil Rights movement made significant progressions within the United States, it came to a rapid decline after the devastating assassinations of all Malcolm X, President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lastly, Col. Mitchell wished to share that African American people have made significant contributions in creating the United States and it is unfortunate that whites have been successful in keeping our accomplishments and advancements out of the history books today. He states, “In order to ensure that our younger generations survive, we must not forget our history. Every other race manages to keep their history alive, although African Americans as a population try hard to suppress our history”. He also notes that African Americans have never been on an equal playing field and will never be because, so we are forced to outperform our white counter parts by any means necessary.
I chose to interview my Uncle Jerry because he is one of the few positive Black-male role models I have in my life today. As my mother’s older brother, he was not only an Uncle to me, but a mentor and a father figure. Although he often traveled within his professional career, he continued to maintain a strong relationship with myself as a pen pal over the years. For example, as a child I remember vividly in a letter sharing the details of my mother and my aunt’s contingent he sends me a minimum of ten dollars! However, I do not recall receiving the ten dollars, but I have yet to celebrate a birthday or Christmas without receiving a gift from either Uncle Jerry or Aunt Elli. In the passing of both of my parents, Uncle Jerry has successful surpassed the expectations of a parental relationship and continues to do so every day as my mentor. As of today, we speak a minimum three times a week ranging from my suitors, education and politics. I have felt his presence during all the good times and the devastating sad times. As a father figure, he often reminds me not to lower my standards and settle, but instead to maintain high expectations of others. As a woman, I admire his wisdom, strength, courage, loving and nourishing nature as an African American man.