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RapidChat: Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell

A lifelong Grand Rapidian, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell got through high school on her love of basketball, not books. She's since changed her tune and earned more degrees than you can count. As lead administrator at Kent Career Tech Center/Kent ISD, she's passionate about the power of education to create a beloved community, and she shares her thoughts about school funding, education policy, and building a better Grand Rapids for everyone in this week's RapidChat.
A lifelong Grand Rapidian, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell got through high school on her love of basketball, not books. She's since changed her tune and earned more degrees than you can count. As lead administrator at Kent Career Tech Center/Kent ISD, she's passionate about the power of education to create a beloved community, and she shares her thoughts about school funding, education policy, and building a better Grand Rapids for everyone in this week's RapidChat.

Rapid Growth: You're an educational consultant and you have a bevy of degrees: a bachelor's in human services, two master's degrees, a pre-doctoral degree, and a recently completed PhD. What drives your passion for learning?
 
Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell: I think it's because I'm a first generation college graduate and my parents always pushed education as the variable that would help me maximize my potential and position me to help others. I can hear my mom's voice saying, "Education is one thing no one can ever take away from you." They truly believed it was the equalizer. I see education as something that can change the trajectory of someone's life. Plus I'm just a very curious person by nature so I love both the formal and informal learning. Funny thing is, I didn't discover that until later in life. In K-12, I played basketball. Sports saved me. If you had asked me in high school, I knew I would get an undergrad degree but I don't know if I would have predicted I'd have this many degrees.
 
RG: It sounds like you've changed your tune since high school. Is it fair to say you're constantly learning? Have you read any good books lately?

BLM: Yes! I just finished The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and I'm currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming and Culturally Responsive Teaching at the same time.
 
RG: You've spent your career as a child advocate by helping students succeed. And public education is in the news right now, as the state legislature tries to figure out school funding while balancing the budget. I see year-over-year funding shortages at my children's public schools. What can the average parent or school district resident do to influence policy and support public schools for all of our children?
 
BLM: As a parent, I think the average person can really pay attention to the elected officials in terms of what priority do they place on education. During the times when they're talking about their platform, ask them the difficult question: There always seems to be too little money, so when times get hard, what will you cut? Paying more attention during campaigns and holding folks accountable – emailing, calling, mobilizing our community organizations to push people to pay attention to what's happening in terms of the cuts to P.E. or arts or counselors, which have a huge impact. I also think it's important the folks pay attention to their local school boards at the community level because when those [legislative] decisions are brought back they make critical decisions. I also think as parents we can try to come alongside schools and partner or forge relationships so where there are gaps, perhaps our business or community agency can come alongside and support, fill in the gap that way.
 
 
RG: If you had a magic wand and you could fundamentally change one thing about the current education system, what would you do?
 
BLM: I think I would try to shift people's mindset of education and educators and elevate the profession. I think if we regarded what educators do and the process more and valued all kids, then there would be no question about what we funded or didn't fund. It's not hard to make hard decisions when you know what you value. If we valued all kids, we wouldn't have a problem making sure they had the top-notch adult educators in their buildings educating and supporting them.
 
RG: You're also involved in the community through plenty of volunteer work. Talk a little about the causes near and dear to your heart.
 
BLM: My family and I during the summers get involved in Kids' Food Basket because we know schools provide a very fundamental basic need to kids so during the summer we're trying to fill that gap. I also work at Kentwood Community Church in children's ministry and get involved in some local races, handing out water or registering people. Oh, and I volunteer through consulting and working with K-Connect, a group that comes together to help address disparities and collaborates to strengthen the cradle to career pipeline. 

I try to mentor younger kids, and that might be the thing that's nearest and dearest to my heart. I feel like, as you mention my different degrees, I've been so fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue various degrees and what I know for sure is that my ethnic background and my gender, I'm underrepresented in terms of folks who are afforded that opportunity. So I want to help kids understand they can do it and identify the steps they can take. And then also letting them know that I didn't necessary like school at first, yet was able to learn what kind of learner I am and put some things in place and do it. Letting them know my failures as well as successes.
 
I'm a supporter of Mindshare, a major fundraising event that goes to support GRPS, which is a perfect example of how the community can come alongside a school system and ensure all kids have access to the resources they need. Then the other thing I've done through that group is Great Sports – it's newer and is specifically trying to raise resources, whether people or finances, to engage students through sports and it benefits GRPS.
 
RG: How long have you lived in Grand Rapids? How do you see it changing and evolving?
 
BLM: I grew up here. I guess I'm totally shocked at everything happening in the greater Grand Rapids community. I've always thought it had potential but with the expansion of GVSU, with the Van Andel Arena and some of the philanthropic activities that I've noticed, I think our community has been very intentional with diversifying the kind of work that's here and been intentional in bringing in different entertainment to increase and attract very diverse people. I'm proud of how intentional the planners have been with employment and how they collaborate across sectors.
 
The main attraction is it's small enough where I can raise my two boys in a safe community for them to thrive yet it is large enough to give you various perspectives. Something I think we still need to work on is how we harness all the gifts of those different groups and ensure that truly all those groups have an opportunity to grow and be economically successful and healthy.
 
RG: You have two young sons. What do you hope Grand Rapids does so it is a better place for them to grow up and live?
 
BLM: Marcus and Silas are my biological children. I think very often of everything happening in our nation and I definitely think of Ferguson or Maryland and New York City and I think everybody questions, who's going to be the next city to have this situation? And I think Grand Rapids is situated to be able to have conversations across all groups and truly prevent something like that from happening. But good sometimes is the nemesis of great. It's a good city and people think it's a cool city, so my concern is that we'll stop where we're at -- but it's still not good enough for all groups -- and won't push the envelope to make sure it's inclusive. You have all these people giving and because things seem OK you don't dig deeper.
 
So that might be one of the curses – folks think there's a big entity that's going to swoop in and show up or write that check or be the mentor. If we want to thrive and be competitive in the future as a regional community each one of us is called to help – writing that check, writing that email, showing up to mentor. I'm mindful of my privilege as a middle-class, educated woman and know that not everyone is as well-off and so other folks have to kind of own that same perspective and look at the disparity and take action, not sit on the sidelines.
 
I guess I just think Grand Rapids truly will be the community that each of us is willing to put our hands in to do the work to make it be. So if we want a beloved community for our kids, then it's time to critically examine, have some hard conversations, and put our money where our mouth is. 

Stephanie Doublestein is the managing editor of Rapid Growth Media.

Photography by Adam Bird.
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