OPELIKA — Father, motivational speaker, coach and founder are just a few of the many hats that Churmell Mitchell wears. If you think that’s impressive, the list spans even further.
Mitchell has received numerous awards, including one from President Joe Biden, and is currently serving as a production team member for a contestant on The Voice. You may be wondering, what motivates him to accomplish all of this. To understand this, we must first take a dive into his early life.
Mitchell’s story began in Decatur, where he grew up in a single-parent household, and the absence of his father left an impact on him during his early years.
“My dad wasn’t really active… there were a lot of things that I had to learn,” he said, explaining that the lack of his father’s presence affected some aspects of his relationship with his mother.
“Me and my mom had a great relationship, but we had a lot of issues growing up,” Mitchell said. “I was really struggling with my biological father and my mother, trying to figure out what we’re working with.”
Though Mitchell faced these struggles, he credits the community around him for providing a cast of mentors who could provide him with support as he grew up. When speaking about which individuals had the most impact on his life, he said that his community as a whole was influential in his life, and he could not limit that impact to one individual.
For example, a woman to whom he referred as “Aunt B” was a white lady who lived in his neighborhood growing up. The relationship between Mitchell, his brother and Aunt B began over a simple question. As the story goes, Mitchell and his brother were banging on the recycling bins like drums when Aunt B asked the two, “Baby, do y’all want a popsicle?” Mitchell said in his area this was unusual.
“In the neighborhood, my mom [said] you don’t take anything from anybody… [that’s] just how the culture was. But me and my brother didn’t care, we just wanted a popsicle. So, we ran to the lady’s house and got a popsicle.”
Mitchell said forming this relationship with Aunt B opened his eyes to the harsh reality of the world.
“This is really when I started understanding what racism was,” he said.
Mitchell described how Aunt B would take him and his brother places like the grocery store, and he did not understand the extra attention they would receive.
“I used to say, ‘Hey, Aunt B, why are they looking at us?’” he said.
Aunt B answered his question with reassurance, saying, “Because we look different, and they can’t understand that I love my chocolate babies.”
Mitchell described this moment as his realization of the world around him.
He also credited the staff at the Decatur Youth Services program for the role they played in his future. He specifically mentioned how Bruce Jones, the director of the youth service, placed him into a tutoring role at the age of 16. Mitchell said that initially, he was reluctant to take on the role, saying that he was more interested in athletics. It was then that Jones asked Mitchell to sit at his desk and to put his feet up on the desk.
“You’re going to be here one day,” Jones told him.
Among his many roles, Mitchell now serves as the president of the Alabama Head Start Association. Though he was hesitant during his teenage years to envision himself in a role like that, Mitchell believes Jones’ nudge helped mold his career path.
“I’ve been doing the same work that he taught me at 16 — helping fathers, helping mothers with child support, and everything I learned at 16 I’ve been able to model for the state,” he said. “As a young African American kid, coming from the low-income environment I was in, I just needed a father’s voice. He (Jones) was the first man.”
Mitchell now seeks out ways to provide for others who may be longing for a paternal figure in their life. His foundation, “A Father’s Voice Matters,” aims to accomplish just that. The foundation is focused on empowering fathers, assisting them to become better leaders and providing them with advice to raise their children in the most effective way possible.
“When I started working with fathers, I was working at a childcare resource center,” he explained. “I became the fatherhood director under Antione Harvis — he had a voice — his voice began to empower me to grow.”
Mitchell credits his faith for his foundation’s name.
“When I started the name, I feel like God just said… you cannot father your son if you don’t hear my voice,” he explained. “One of the key components that happens is, if a child hears his father’s voice, he’ll move a little bit differently.”
As a single parent, Mitchel understood he did not have all the answers, but he believed that leaning on his faith would help guide his path.
“I knew that there’s a lot of choices in my life that I was still struggling with — being a single parent and trying to figure things out,” he said. “I knew that I needed to get my walk with God to be stronger.”
Mitchell said his work with area children who have absent fathers has shown him the power that an active and positive role model can have.
“There’s something about a man’s voice that can shake the room,” he said. “Because it’s the discipline, it’s like when you hear a lion roar, you aren’t going to stand there. You’re going to pay attention. You will figure out what it was.”
Mitchell said he believes that having a father present and active is just the first step.
“The whole power of the movement is getting fathers just to be present with the voice. Because when you start talking, everything else comes from there,” Mitchell said.
He highlighted the word “hope” as a basis for the goal of his foundation, and this is derived from the Steps of Hope grant for the Children’s Trust fund that Mitchell supported. The grant got its name from a sermon that he wrote.
“I needed hope in coming from the struggles I was facing,” Mitchell said. “H is healing. In order for me to see my own hope and help these dads find their voice they had to be healed. I carried that brokenness into my adulthood, which did not help me in the beginning of my childhood faith in my kids, and so I had to heal myself so my kids can have hope for their future.”
According to Mitchell Once the healing process is complete a transition can be made to the next step.
“The second one is the O — opportunity. I believe when a man is healed, he can successfully carry opportunity a whole lot bigger,” he said.
Mitchell said that once a man is healed and can hold more opportunities, he should then pick a purpose, the P.
“How are you going to use your voice?” he said. “You can pick more than one [way], but you might want just [to start with] one. That’s what that purpose will be telling you: Don’t H-O-P, don’t hop around too much. A man with many talents cannot master a skill of one.”
For the final letter, Mitchell identified the energy as the meaning of E.
“When you heal, when you see an opportunity, you understand your purpose. It takes energy, and when you can get that energy, you create a hope for yourself every single day.
“My village at Auburn, Shepherd’s Cove and other people in other communities, my after-school parents that I’ve had over the years — that’s who got me here,” Mitchell said. “And I think that’s the hope. The healing came from people. Opportunities came from people. Purpose came through people and the energy came within people. So, I think that’s why I have hope every day.”
Empowering fathers is not the only thing on the agenda for Mitchell.
“We also have a mother’s voice matters that we’re getting ready to attach to it,” he explained. “I don’t want to forget about the moms. I believe moms have a superpower that [men] just don’t have.”
In addition to his foundation, Mitchell serves as a District 3 representative for the Alabama Parent Advisory Council. Similar to his foundation, in his role as a representative Mitchell advocates for mothers and fathers in the district. Being a parent himself helps Mitchell present an accurate testimony of the impact a council decision will have.
“We get to have that parent’s voice on it,” he said. “It’s like, [saying] ‘Hey, I don’t think parents think this way or maybe you should add this wording to it.’ So, we do grant reviews. A lot of the grants that you see working throughout the state of Alabama, we get a chance to review those grants and score those, and we ask are we seeing this in the neighborhood?”
The platform has provided Mitchell with a voice to speak on his experiences and learn from others, Mitchell said.
“It’s been a blessing to me because I get the chance to share that I was homeless,” he said. “I know what it feels like. Being able to use our lived experience stories to really connect with families all around the world.”
Throughout Mitchell’s life, he has held to his faith. His journey took a pivotal turn when he moved out at the age of 16 and started to have a desire to understand his relationship with God. As he got older, he said he felt pressure to conduct himself in a certain way because of his faith.
“I remember seasons of my life in Christianity,” he said. “And so the season I am in now is …how do I love people without the performance? How do I become who God’s called me to be without feeling like I have to earn something? All my life I feel like I had to earn, and so in this season it’s really [about] loving myself, even through the mistakes, even through the process, but also really trying to be the greatest example for the younger kids.
“My grandfather was a pastor, and that was my only dream — to be like him,” Mitchell said. He wanted to help people, and he tried to share his faith in many ways.
“It started with showing up to play drums when I was four or five years old, then singing — that’s when it started. I tried everything. I thought football was a way. I thought working with kids was a way,” he said. “When I became a youth pastor, I knew that I had a gift — speaking.”
Mitchell is now a national motivational speaker under Eric Thomas, one of the most influential motivational speakers and one of the inspirations for Mitchell to pursue a doctorate degree. Thomas holds a doctorate in theology, and according to Mitchell, his decision to pursue the same doctorate stemmed from his desire to grow in his faith.
He said he hopes to grow in his faith and influence by following the example of a familiar historical figure, Martin Luther King Jr.
“Martin Luther King is why I want to read the Bible the way I do, because I’ve said since they killed [him], I want to finish it. I want to start where [he] left off,” Mitchell said. “And I think that’s where my heart goal was, stepping into political roles. I want to take the legacy that [MLK] really wanted to finish, and I want to do that for the community of all people.”
Mitchell’s work has not gone unnoticed. This year he received a number of awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the nation’s Commander in Chief.
“I didn’t know I was doing so much until you get a reward like that — my mentor Tiffany McIntosh is the one who set all that up, she said, ‘I just want you to be recognized,’” he said.
Though Mitchell is greatly honored by the award, he said his work is not merely for accolades or recognition. His primary drive is to help people, and while he is grateful for his award, he takes greater pleasure in seeing people benefit from his efforts to help them.
“The award is for me to really leverage to reach the voices of the kids,” Mitchell said, explaining that’s who he wants to influence.
Mitchell is currently working on a team to create content for The Voice contestant Asher Havon, whom he met during a Church of the Highlands gospel event. Mitchell impressed Havon with his photography skills and was brought to the team to produce an album cover.
“I learned that skill [photography] and I put that skill to [work] with Asher and have just been able to be a brother to him,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a fun experience, but here’s the greatest part: I brought a team with me.”
Mitchell brought along some of his production team to assist and spoke very highly of his crew. When Mitchell refers to his group of people as a team, that word holds immense value in his eyes.
“Giving them opportunities has been a blessing for me,” he said. “I think the greatest leader is the one who can send out a great team better than him. These guys are creative. They’re talented. I just get blessed to put it under my team name. I tell them, there’s nobody behind me. We’re all side by side. And if I win, you win,” he said.
With all that Mitchell has accomplished so far, you would wonder what is up next for him.
“I don’t want to know where I want to be in five years,” he said. “I think I want to be where God wants me to be.”
Though he doesn’t know exactly where he will be, Mitchell said he knows the legacy he would like to leave behind.
“It is just building something that can last,” he said. “And so, I just think that’s where I am. I want to see myself make good decisions, helping change policies, helping families, and just really trying to make the world a better place and really make Martin Luther King Jr. proud at the end of the day.”