Guest Post by Victoria Stewart
Students at Albion College live in the city of Albion without recognizing what goes into maintaining this community. Behind the scenes, many unsung heroes dedicate their time and hard work in order to help make Albion the best community it can be. The one leading the way? Sheryl Mitchell.
“She is oftentimes the first person in the building and usually the last person to leave the building. She is a very determined and driven administrator and woman,” said Larry Williams, program coordinator for the City of Albion Recreation Department.
Danielle Nelson, a West Bloomfield junior at Albion College and former City Hall intern, described the current City Manager of Albion. “She works tirelessly to ensure that people’s voices are heard and she works to bring about great opportunities for the city of Albion,” she said.
Before becoming the city manager, Mitchell served as the chief of staff in Detroit for 14 years; and a senior analyst for 16 years from Oakland County Commissioners. In a time of so much change and transition, the city of Albion needed a strong leader. For the past year Mitchell has filled that role.
Coming from Oakland County, which had 4,000 employees, to Albion, which only has 50, was a big transition for Mitchell. It is a completely different structure and culture. Even with the dedicated team of employees that she works alongside with, she is still working with a city that has “limited resources and staff, with tremendous needs.” This challenge has provided a unique learning opportunity for her. She is extremely hands on with how she handles the city compared to her work in Oakland County.
Nelson stated, “Sheryl served as a mentor and an exemplary model of what a public servant should be.”
Mitchell and her team may have immense challenges when it comes to the economic challenges the city faces, but they are making strides toward finding solutions that benefit the city. Working toward a “new Albion,” she urges students to get involved and try to make changes in the community around them.
Mitchell said that President Mauri Ditzler has made firm commitments regarding connecting the college with the community. Both have noted that Albion College is intertwined with its surrounding community. This has resulted in having meetings in order to discuss the common issues between the city, the local school and college.
One of those common issues at this time is addressing with diversity. Mitchell’s view is that “diversity is an asset to any campus and dialogues,” but, at the same time, “not everyone is ready to treat differences with civility and respect.” This is a crossroads that communities of all kinds face at some point. The city manager suggested that it is time for the city of Albion to think about creating a “race relations task force” so we can have safe but meaningful conversations around these issues.
Having meaningful conversations about this issue is something that Mitchell is no stranger to. Being a woman of color in a position of power has always provided challenges because people have their biases, whether they are subtle or blatantly discriminatory. Mitchell has noticed that she has at times been treated differently because parts of her identity “fit into this box.”
As of 2014, the National Center of Education Statistics reported that black women are the most educated group in the United States. Mitchell, with her doctorate in business administration and her master’s degree in public administration, is definitely trying to make the best out of her opportunity.
She knows that she needs to go above and beyond in the same situation just to prove herself. She takes these instances, and advises others, to remain professional and use them “improve yourself” as you walk away.
Despite challenges of lack of resources and facing prejudice, Mitchell handles it all with grace, her main concern still to make Albion the best community it can be.
Photo by Alexandra Carey