Vernon C. Mitchell Sr. was many things to many different people.
To more than 30 years’ worth of students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, he was Mr. Mitchell. To the friends he used to ride motorcycles with, he was king of the road. To Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education President Courtney Graves, he was a lifelong mentor, from the time she met him as a fourth grader to the time he served as treasurer on her successful school board run in 2015.
To his son, Vernon C. Mitchell Jr., he was a time traveler. Well, a figurative one.
“He was at every basketball game I had, every recital my sister and I had, every graduation. He was there for everything,” Vernon Jr. said. “But other people will tell you that, every time they called, Mr. Mitchell was there. He must have had a time machine because there is no way he could’ve been here for all of them and been there for us, too. That’s just kind of how he was.”
Now, a little more than three years after Vernon Sr. passed away, his family is teaming up with his alma mater, the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Education, to ensure that his legacy is timeless.
The ED Collabitat hosted a launch event for the Vernon C. Mitchell Sr. Scholarship on Thursday, an event attended by around 50 people. Mitchell’s family – including seven of his siblings – was there, as were a sampling of some of the other people he impacted through his decades of service as an educator and mentor in north St. Louis County.
“He was a big advocate of schools and education in young people, and we thought what better place to do a scholarship than at his alma mater?” said Vernon Jr., whose father earned his MEd in educational administration from UMSL in 1979. “My father considered UMSL a home away from home. We thought what better way to give to the next generation of community educators and servant leaders? My dad epitomized that in everything he did. We thought this would be a fitting tribute to that legacy, to help the next generation of educators to be the next Vernon Mitchells.”
At the scholarship launch event, attendees painted an image of Vernon Sr. as a larger-than-life figure, a vital pillar of the community who, in 1987, became the first African American principal of Berkeley Senior High School.
McCluer North High School Assistant Principal Anissa Harris – a 2002 UMSL alumna and former student of Vernon Sr. – was there. As was University City School District Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Ian Buchanan, a 1995 UMSL alumnus who Vernon Sr. mentored and, in turn, mentored Vernon Jr. during his time in school.
Vernon Jr. went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri–Columbia and a master’s and PhD in African American history from Cornell University. He’s now a researcher and the Curator of Popular American Arts and Culture in the Department of Special Collections housed within the University Libraries at Washington University in St. Louis.
“There is a notion about who Mr. Mitchell was, but then there is the person, that spirit that is still resounding in the community in very real, tangible ways,” Vernon Jr. said. “You can meet people who can tell you the things he did that went above and beyond the call of duty. My dad was the type that would give folks the shirt off his back but, in the same instance, he would also hold people accountable. That’s something he did with his kids, something he did with his students.”
Vernon Jr. said the family is about halfway to its goal of fully endowing the scholarship and aims to reach full endowment in the next two years. Once endowed, Vernon Jr. wants scholarship funds to go toward students entering graduate educational leadership programs at UMSL who want to continue working in the community after earning their degrees.
“Our role is to walk alongside people like Vernon and give them what they need when they need it: the learning, the qualification and the master’s degree that enabled him to go on and be that extraordinary school leader that so many of you knew,” said College of Education Dean Ann Taylor. “We’re thrilled to honor him. Our leadership program in the college now has a strong focus on character and the importance of leaders who build cultures with people, cultures of learning and inclusion. It’s very special that I can thank the Mitchell family for their generous vision in establishing the Vernon C. Mitchell Sr. Scholarship in educational, administrational leadership.”
Gifts to the Vernon C. Mitchell Sr. Scholarship can be made online by clicking here.