Op/Ed Gloria Winston –
They say we only get one Mother in this life. The reason I know I am blessed and highly favored is because God gave me two. I had my birth Mother Eliza Wilma Alexander Winston for 58 of my 73 years on planet earth and I had my Mother #2, Connie Mitchell, almost 63 years of love and positive influence.
Why do I call her my mother #2? Because, for as long as I remember, she was. Her only daughter Constance, who I call “Sis,” always accepted my presence at the table and in the family.
Connie was an icon to me and this community. She has been in my life longer than I can recall. As a young person growing up in the Third Ward, I remember she was the one who got my feet wet and introduced me to politics. She and her husband John had us young folks (NAACP Jr. Chapter) engaged in delivering political information to front doors in our neighborhood. Even though we did not understand the importance of what we were doing we did as we were told. I remember Connie being celebrated as the first Black female politician in Rochester. I remember the joy and the pride my parents and others in the neighborhood expressed when she won. I remember being engaged in literature drops for other politicians like Midge Costanza.
Connie Mitchell always had her hand in the improvement of Black lives in our community. Since I can remember she and her husband were always in the trenches fighting for decent housing, gainful employment opportunities, career development, keeping teens on the right path and college bound, feeding the homeless, and becoming entrepreneurs in the Third Ward. Connie and John lived on Greig Street in our “hood” and even after relocating to the Nineteenth Ward their house was a gathering place for all who were civic minded and who chose to follow their lead in improving the lives of folks in our community. Connie and John moved busloads of families into the city and helped them find decent housing and employment that sustained their lifestyles. John Mitchell was in Personnel at Rochester Products and used his position to help many families that looked like him.
My memory includes meeting Malcolm X at the Mitchell house on Greig Street. For those who don’t know, Connie and Malcolm X share the same birthday of May 19th. I was there when the iconic pic of Connie, Doris Price, Minister Florence and Malcolm X was taken. For some reason when the pic is often published, Doris Price seems to fall on the editing floor and is cut off. Doris Price however was a key shoulder we stand on also. She opened the first Black book store and was very instrumental in establishing the Rochester chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Connie and John hosted Malcolm X as a result of the attempt by some to burn down the north Street mosque. Robert Kennedy was another guest at the Mitchell household.
My memory recalls Connie and John participating in the March on Selma, taking with them a busload of folks from Rochester. “Active” was Connie Mitchell’s middle name. She worked with youth at Baden Street and Montgomery neighborhood Center. When she left Rochester Jobs, Inc. where worked as an employment counselor, the chamber of Commerce funded a program, she ran, called PRISM—an after school program focusing on extra-curricular math and science for HS students.
Connie insisted on my presence as one of the parents on the Committee that advised and helped to create the program. The committee was chaired by Xerox Engineer Lloyd Bean who probably has as many Patents at Xerox as Walter Cooper does at Kodak. At the time PRISM was established, Ursula Burns was a young engineer. She later married Lloyd and, as history notes, went on to become President and CEO of Xerox.
What flattered me most about Connie accepting my presence in her life is I always marveled at how she seemed attracted to nothing but good people. She literally adored and respected Lena Gantt, Mildred Johnson and Sister Grace. They had kindred spirits to say the least.
Connie was also a writer. She loved poetry and the arts. She always encouraged and supported my renderings, especially my editorials. When I edited for the Montgomery Neighborhood Center, she was there to encourage me. When I wrote for the Buffalo Challenger when it was owned by former Assemblyman Arthur Eve, she was my cheerleader. When I wrote for Howard Coles’ Frederick Douglas Voice newspaper under the leadership of his daughter Joan, Connie was always there. She used to tell me often, “Keep telling the truth, daughter!!” When I went to work in the national arena for Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. she was so proud of me. We used to talk often. She and Walter Cooper were my prime mentors when I was out there with those sharks.
Over the decades Connie and I shared many a breakfast, lunches and dinners, committee and planning events, many drink and much laughter. I remember the many barbeques that were often attended by the late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. Connie and Louis loved the chicken and ribs that her former Son in law, Greg Jefferson, used to bring off the grill.
There are not many candidates for political office who did not feel the need to engage Connie and John. I remember their hands on the candidacies of Lloyd Hurst, Willie Lightfoot, Tony Reed, David Gantt, Ruth Scott, Adam McFadden, Bill Johnson, Wade Norwood, Lovely Warren, Lashay Harris and so many others. They were more than mentors and supporters of James “Mamba” McCuller. When I started “about time” magazine, Connie was right by my side.
Connie Mitchell, my mother #2, walked the walk! She valued her community. After the 1964 Riots and during the Attica Riots I remember who was at the table and who was consulted—Connie Mitchell, Walter Cooper and Minister Franklin Florence. They were like the Three Amigos. They were more genuine than most about their goals and strategies to improve life in our community.
Where Connie and John ever found the time to play cards and golf is beyond me but they did. I suspect there is a card game in Heaven right now with John, my parents, Sonny Latimer and others who roamed the Third Ward and this community—they were true giants. Connie was the reason I own the lone golf trophy, because she insisted I play on her team at an ABC golf tournament when McCuller was alive. It was a Texas scramble, so the team with the highest score won. I just happened to be on the right one with Connie and Bill Russell’s girlfriend Rusty Taylor. Yeah that Bill Russell!
Connie Mitchell My Loving, kind, Mother #2 walked the walk like the Queen she is. No doubt about it. She always brought her own shoes to the dance and anyone will be hard pressed to fill them. Good night, mother. You have earned your rest!
— Gloria Winston is a Community Activist, Writer, Communicator, and Political Activist. She is a native Rochesterian and has been involved with numerous community organizations in Rochester. Contact Gloria at: JazzyG4202@aol.com.