above: Martin, Bob, and sons
Martin Mitchell works as an administrator in the Oakland Unified School District, and served as a member of Our Family Coalition’s Board of Directors for years. He’s now an OFC Emeritus Board member, and also Treasurer and a Deacon at City of Refuge UCC Church.
OUR FAMILY COALITION: Tell us a bit about your family: anything you’d like to share about how you came to be?
MARTIN MITCHELL: Bob and I have two adopted sons, one 16 and the other 24. We’ve been together for 18 years and legally married for five. Both our sons were adopted as teenagers, which is a bit unusual —but there’s a huge need in that area.
OFC: Has your notion of community uplift changed since you became a parent, and if so, how?
MM: No, it hasn’t. I’ve just had to learn how to plan better! (laughs) I’ve always been involved with the community. I’m almost 60, and I worked on my first political campaign when I was 16 years old! Throughout my life I’ve always been involved, whether it’s with some organization, mentoring young men, or tutoring kids—it’s how I was raised. You give back to the community when you can. So when I had children, I didn’t want to give that up. I just had to be sure that what I was involved with did not take time away from my family, and instead ideally include them.
OFC: What kinds of community volunteer work do you engage in now that has been family-friendly, and why?
MM: We’ve found the kids can easily be involved with us at church. For years, Bob was involved with the church food pantry. Our youngest son James would go with him twice a month. They would get there about 5:00AM, set it up, and then end up staying until it closed. It was how he got James involved. And it stuck.
OFC: Do you see your sons showing you new directions in community involvement?
MM: Both Bob and I come from families that were very involved where we grew up. Now that we’re parents, we know our children will eventually emulate what they grew up with. Since our parents instilled in us a sense of service, we’re hoping we can instill the same in our sons. The value of giving is multi-generational.
Lawrence, our oldest, is a court advocate. He works with young people who are in the juvenile justice system and are out on parole or waiting for their court cases. Helping others is a critical part of a career, for him. It’s just part of his personality.
James is the same way. When he first came to live with us, we used to talk a lot about helping others. But we saw that he already had that value in him; helping just came naturally. When he was in middle school, we always told him, “Don’t fight. Just walk away.” But the fights he got into were when he was protecting other kids who were being bullied. He’s very caring. Even when Bob couldn’t go to the pantry, James would make arrangements to have someone pick him up so he could still go.
OFC: How do you manage manage a life of service as a working parent?
MM: Whatever you engage in has to be something you’re going to enjoy. There are hundreds of organizations that need volunteers. Find organizations that your children can get involved in as well, so they can go with you, and at least from time to time, get involved. If you have a busy work life, your kids have sports and school, you just have to set a time aside and say, “As a family, we’re going to do this once a month.” If you can get the entire family involved, it works. And if not, as an individual you start that example, and maybe everyone else will follow.
OFC: Anything else you’d like to share?
MM: It’s a gift to be able to give back. And it teaches your kids to respect individuals who are less fortunate than they are. It’s just the luck of the draw. Any of us can be in that place at any time in our lives. You have to help others because there may be times when you’re going to need help. Life has a way of showing showing up at your front door when you don’t expect it!