Willie Mitchell has served over 30 years on the Gainesville City School Board.
His dedication was celebrated Monday night with a proclamation read by Superintendent Jeremy Williams, and he was joined by his family.
Mitchell described himself as a spiritual person, and prayed about whether he should even run again in 2019, but said it's not enough to just have a good idea for something. A "God idea" is needed to create solutions, because "a God idea has a guarantee."
Mitchell was appointed to what was a 10 member school board in 1990.
"I was appointed by a late councilperson, John Morrow, and John came up to me one day and said, 'I want to appoint you to the school board. You've always been vocal about doing what's right for our people and I think that would be a good position for you to take,'" said Mitchell. "He said, 'Think about it.' And I told him, after we'd had a conversation about it. So I made that choice to go forth.
"You hear so many things about what things are going wrong and so what I wanted to do was get a fresh chance on knowledge of what it is."
He said he has always focused on those kids who aren't getting the opportunities.
"If a child fails, we've somewhat failed, too, " he said. He credits environmental and other factors as important players in a child's life, too.
Mitchell is a graduate of E.E. Butler High School, and witnessed segregated schools in Gainesville firsthand. He also recalled racial tension and struggles beyond high school.
"I can remember being in a board meeting and the Ku Klux Klan was there," said Mitchell. "And I've been at board meetings when we've celebrated all kinds of victories - our numbers went up, kids were greatly improving and the graduation rate went up because we focused on the things we had negative numbers on."
He said things have continued to change through the pandemic, requiring the board to adapt new solutions for students.
"We have to go forward with stuff that we have never tried before, yet at the same time we have to be bold enough and willing to take those challenges," he said.
When the board's charter changed to require elections, Mitchell was voted in to the board in 1995. He has been reelected every election since - in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019.
In addition to his own ties to the school system, his son, daughter and grandchild have all graduated from Gainesville City Schools, while he has been a member of the school board.
In a proclamation read Monday night at the school board meeting, Mitchell was described as a mainstay for the board.
"Whereas, Willie Mitchell is strong in his faith and is described as a quiet voice of reason, a hallmark of his life and public service; whereas, he is the voice of all students and employees in the Gainesville City School System because of his knowledge of policy, budget, personnel, and the system's revered traditions of 125 years," read Williams from the proclamation. "Whereas it is abundantly fitting and proper that the outstanding accomplishments of this remarkable Georgian be appropriately recognized."