Keith Mitchell: “A Wonderful Person to Be Around”

Sojourner’s Truth Staff

Keith Mitchell passed away on Friday, April 2, 2021, after battling cancer for several years. Mitchell, attorney, community activist, behind-the-scenes political operator, was a long-time Toledo resident and a friend, mentor, advisor to many in the Toledo community.

Mitchell, who was originally from Los Angeles, earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from California State University in Northridge and his first career was in academia as he held various positions at his alma mater from his graduation for the next decade.

He left California for Toledo in the early 1980s with Neema Bell (his wife for years and a partner now with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP) and entered the University of Toledo College of Law, graduating in 1986. While attending law school, Mitchell worked full time at Bowling Green State University, first as a counselor/recruiter in BGSU’s Educational Talent Search and later as assistant director of the College Access Programs.

His first job as a lawyer was with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), where he worked as a staff attorney. In 1989, he joined the office of the Lucas County Prosecutor as an assistant prosecutor trying felony cases in the Common Pleas Court, conducting preliminary hearings in Toledo Municipal Court and presenting cases in front of the Lucas County Grand Jury.

He left the Prosecutor’s office in 1991 to become executive director of Toledo’s Board of Community Relations (BCR), after which he joined the Toledo law firm of Cooper, Walinski & Cramer as an associate attorney.

During 1991, he served as chairman of the City of Toledo’s Apportionment Board that was charged with drawing the six City Council districts resulting from revisions to the City Charter – he ran unsuccessfully for Council two years later.

In 1996, Mitchell left Cooper to start his own private practice.

Over the years, Mitchell has been involved with such causes as preserving the historic Lathrop House – a stop on the Underground Railroad; Democratic Party activities such as campaigning for statewide candidates such as Sen. Howard Metzenbaum in the 1980’s to serving as finance chairman for a recent Judge Myron Duhart campaign; serving as an officer and on the board of the Thurgood Marshall Law Association; helping to host community and cultural events; providing guidance for young business and political aspirants; assisting in neighborhood social events – to name a few.

“It’s time for us older folks to pass the baton onto younger people,” Mitchell said in recent years of his commitment to working with younger generations.

Robert Smith, CEO of the African American Legacy Project, hosts an annual event with the AALP to honor local Legends. Keith Mitchell was to be honored this past year, but as with so many events scheduled during the pandemic, that ceremony was postponed. Smith, however, organized a ceremony via Zoom on March 8 to present Mitchell with his Kente cloth as a number of local community luminaries paid tribute to the friend and colleague they had come to admire over the decades.

Tributes were presented by Judge C. Allen McConnell, Rev. Willie Perryman, pastor of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Toledo Chapter NAACP; his sister Carolyn Mitchell and Brian Latta of the Northwest Ohio Young Black Democrats. All of the speakers addressed Keith’s commitment to the community and his unstinting desire to help and uplift others.

Keith’s family included an older brother and sister – Arthur Mitchell (three children: Sono, Arthur IV, Kuno)) and Carolyn Mitchell, along with a younger brother John Mitchell (one son, Gabriel) and a younger half-sister, Kelly Gallagher. Keith has one daughter, Messiri, and two grandchildren, Aisha and Jonathan.

Robert Smith interviewed a number of people during his radio broadcast on March 6 to announce the Zoom ceremony. One of the people interviewed was Rebecca West-Estell, a local attorney who entered practice in the late 1990s. West-Estell expressed her gratitude for the mentorship Mitchell provided her as he guided her through the process of starting to practice law in Toledo.

West-Estell also summed up what so many people in the Toledo area have felt about Keith over the years and have said about him in recent days.

“He had the highest integrity and was very intelligent,” said West-Estell. “He was a wonderful person to be around.”