Throughout her life, Anita Mitchell has worked to uphold values taught by Martin Luther King Jr.
It was in part these values that led to her receiving a certificate of appreciation for service to others Friday during an event at the Gainesville Veterans Affairs Hospital auditorium celebrating King’s life. Mitchell, the associate chief of social work for the North Florida and South Georgia Veterans Health System, was also the keynote speaker at the event.
Mitchell, 55, said she felt blessed to be selected.
“Growing up, I was taught the values that Dr. Martin Luther King taught — that you work hard, that you always give 150 percent,” she said. “Everything I have done, I have tried to do to my best.”
A retired first sergeant of the United States Air Force, Mitchell said her biggest inspirations in life came from her upbringing. Raised in Michigan, her father was an army veteran and pastor who she said taught her to love and have integrity.
Wanting to venture out and experience the world, Mitchell joined the armed forces at 17 against her family’s wishes.
“I forged my mom’s signature,” Mitchell said. “I was supposed to go to Michigan State.”
She went on to become the first African-American woman to serve as the first sergeant of Moody Air Force Base’s two largest squadrons. She also won several awards, including “Best Substance Abuse Counselor and Program Manager in the Air Force.“
Mitchell said she wanted to continue to make a difference for substance abuse victims following her retirement. Today, she works in Lake City overseeing social workers who work with veterans in the North Florida and South Georgia area.
“Whatever I can do to serve, I do,” she said.
Nancy Reissener, deputy director of the North Florida and South Georgia Veterans Health System, has worked with Mitchell since 2005 and said she is a wonderful worker.
“She and I have had a lot of wonderful conversations,” she said. “She’s dedicated, she’s a visionary of how to improve social work services for patients and she’s a veteran herself.”
In addition to Mitchell’s full-time job, she is also a volunteer coach and board member for Columbia Cheerleader Association Inc. in Lake City.
Wilda Drawdy, president of the association, has worked alongside Mitchell for about 10 years and said while most coaches volunteer because they have a child on the team, Mitchell does it out of kindness.
“Anita does it because she loves children,” Drawdy said. “She wants to see them off the street. She does it to give them a reason and a purpose.”
Mitchell ended her speech by encouraging the crowd of about 85 to take action that benefits others.
“It’s never too late to make a difference,” she said. “Be positive. Be inspired. Be inspired by the hope for change.“