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George E. Mitchell, longtime community leader remembered as a ‘champion for Park Heights,' dies

George E. Mitchell led the effort to transform the old Langston Hughes Elementary School into the Langston Hughes Community and Business Resource Center. Behind him are two of Hughes' poems, "To You" and "Dreams."
George E. Mitchell led the effort to transform the old Langston Hughes Elementary School into the Langston Hughes Community and Business Resource Center. Behind him are two of Hughes' poems, "To You" and "Dreams." (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Kwame Rose recalled running a jobs program last year for former convicts and rehabilitation center clients at the Langston Hughes Community, Business and Resource Center and watching in amazement as George E. Mitchell made sure that every interviewee went home with food from the center’s pantry.

“He wasn’t just an advocate, he was a servant,” Mr. Rose, a social activist, writer and public speaker who advocates for vulnerable communities, said Wednesday. “He believed in serving the Park Heights community, and that takes a level of selflessness. That’s a different type of commitment. Six or seven days a week, he was at that center helping people. That’s strong, that’s bold. The biggest thing I can say about George’s character is that man made sure that the people who needed resources got the resources — not just one day a week, but multiple days a week. That man not only fed people, but he furnished apartments, he furnished homes for people, he brought classes to Langston Hughes and child care. He was somebody special.”

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Mr. Mitchell, a prominent activist in and fixture of the Park Heights community of Northwest Baltimore, died Tuesday of undetermined causes. He was 65.

Cody L. Dorsey, a former member of the Baltimore City Youth and Student Commission, said Mr. Mitchell was widely renowned as the unofficial mayor of Park Heights.

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“He was so proud,” Mr. Dorsey said of Mr. Mitchell’s reaction when people called him the mayor. “He wasn’t an individual who was in this for any type of gain. He was in this because he is from Baltimore and he is from that community and he wanted to make improvements.”

According to a biography posted when he ran in the Democratic primary for the District 41 seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, Mr. Mitchell was born in Florence, South Carolina, but moved to Baltimore after his first birthday. He graduated from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School in 1972 and Morgan State University in 1976, where he was a two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion in wrestling and a member of the football team.

After Morgan State, Mr. Mitchell served in the U.S. Army and earned a master’s at Saint Leo University in St. Leo, Florida. After owning and operating several restaurants in Virginia and then Maryland, including becoming one of the first Black partners of a Golden Corral franchise, Mr. Mitchell made a career change and became a licensed real estate agent.

George E. Mitchell, president of the Langston Hughes Community Action Association, is pictured in May 2015. “He wasn’t just an advocate, he was a servant,” social activist Kwame Rose said. “He believed in serving the Park Heights community, and that takes a level of selflessness. That’s a different type of commitment." Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun
George E. Mitchell, president of the Langston Hughes Community Action Association, is pictured in May 2015. “He wasn’t just an advocate, he was a servant,” social activist Kwame Rose said. “He believed in serving the Park Heights community, and that takes a level of selflessness. That’s a different type of commitment." Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Mitchell’s death were unclear, and his son, George Mitchell, a former Towson football player and current assistant coach at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, did not return requests for an interview.

On June 25, Mr. Mitchell wrote a post on Facebook acknowledging that “a health issue had required medical care for his father.

“My father is facing an uphill battle in the hospital right now,” his son wrote in a post that elicited almost 300 comments. “Prayers for him are greatly appreciated. Cherish the moments with your family as much as you can.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Mitchell announced his father’s death in a post that drew more than 450 comments by Wednesday afternoon.

“My father passed away peacefully today. Thank you for all the support,” he wrote before listing how people might have known his father. “Please feel free to post any past experiences you had with him.”

On Tuesday, his father’s personal Facebook account was updated with a post that included red hearts in the background and read, “I’m at peace now. Please respect my privacy and my family.”

Mr. Mitchell’s death drew swift and heartfelt reaction from political, cultural and media leaders via social media.

“George Mitchell was a champion for Park Heights,” Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said in a statement. “Under his vision, the Langston Hughes Center became a place where children came to read, speak foreign languages and play basketball and baseball. He used the center as an incubator for small businesses and a place where Seniors felt safe and respected. George Mitchell fed thousands of families and individuals every week from his center and was always looking to do more. You could hear his laughter all over Park Heights and you could see and feel his influence in every issue that impacted the community. I will miss his wise words. I will miss my dear friend. He would want us to continue to look out for each other and look out for his beloved Park Heights.”

At the close of Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting, city officials paid homage to Mr. Mitchell.

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Comptroller Joan Pratt called his death “a great loss.”

Acting Solicitor Dana P. Moore recognized Mr. Mitchell for his indefatigable efforts to feed the community.

City Council President Brandon Scott said Mr. Mitchell was a kindred spirit. Both men have strong ties to Park Heights and both attended Mergenthaler.

“Mr. Mitchell was a giant among men, especially in the Park Heights community,” said Mr. Scott, the Democratic nominee for mayor in a city where Democrats far outnumber Republicans. “He will be deeply missed in the community. You can never replace a man like George Mitchell.”

On July 6, the city had authorized the sale of the 41,715-square-foot Langston Hughes Elementary School building on 2.7 acres of land in the 5000 block of Reisterstown Road to Mitchell’s group called Youth Educational Services, which has operated the Langston Hughes Community, Business and Resource Center since July 3, 2017.

The center houses a food pantry, library, computer lab, and several youth and adult training programs.

Mr. Dorsey called Mr. Mitchell’s death a significant loss, “not just for Park Heights, but for Baltimore.”

“He was a gentleman who really cared about the next generation of Baltimoreans,” Mr. Dorsey said. “He had a rec center that he ran, and this was a place where young people felt safe and comfortable, and parents felt safe sending their kids for recreational activities. And during this whole pandemic, he was running that center, making sure that people in his community, the community that he loved and cared for, were getting food, were getting access to resources.”

Mr. Rose said he thinks Mr. Mitchell’s death can sound the bell for future generations of community activists.

“What it is, is a head start,” Mr. Rose said. “We saw how this man dedicated his life to serving Park Heights and then in the last few years making sure that Langston Hughes was a true community-based center. So I believe that George Mitchell’s life has given us a head start in continuing his legacy, and that’s to see that Park Heights doesn’t look like two separate cities located in the same ZIP code. That’s to make sure that a community on one side of Northern Parkway is not better than the other on the other side of Northern Parkway. George’s loss just means that it’s going to take all of us who worked with George that we all know the mission, that we all know what to do, that we’ve all been doing it, and that we’ve got to continue to build.”

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Mr. Mitchell is survived by his ex-wife, Carolyn Mitchell; three children, Nicole, George Jr. and Travis; one sister, Anetia Mitchell; and one grandchild.

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Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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