By Dwight Hobbes
CulTives & Associates CEO/Founder Verona Mitchell’s success at impacting community is no surprise. It stems from a passion for exploring culture and empowering communication.
This passion goes back to her days in academia at Bethel University, where she earned her master’s degree in organizational leadership before moving on to a Ph.D. in public policy administration at Walden University. “I like the study of all people,” she reflects while sitting down over a cup of mocha latte at Pow Wow Grounds in South Minneapolis. “I like to study about cultures. And have a voice behind what I find.”
Brightly animated with a ready smile, Mitchell asserts, in specific, a longstanding fascination with and dedication to what she found out about Black women’s bearing on African and African American culture. She also reflects on her determination to make a difference.
“When I was doing my master’s, that was great to write about African American female leadership. Then I said, ‘Well, why not take it to the next level and really dig in deeper? All of it was leading to ask myself, ‘If you have something to say and can make a critical change, go for the Ph.D.’ I wanted to know how far I can go.”
She’s gone pretty far. Since 2009, along with heading up CulTives & Associates, a prominent consultancy, Mitchell has carved out an impressive professional niche of innovative programming in diversity and cultural competence that puts teeth in the model of inclusion for which Twin Cities corporations and companies espouse great appreciation.
She is not willing to leave that model as just so much politically correct lip service. Her philosophy behind CulTives & Associates is “To enable clients to maximize their bottom line through engagement in emerging local and global cultural markets.”
For instance, when a White-run institution or business entity wants to make inroads into communities of color, today’s social climate is one where the old mandate of moving in and having the resident populace conform to your norm no longer works. Certainly, there is no more simply plucking the proverbial best and brightest to reshape them as token showpieces. There are sensibilities that must be respected, at least if you expect to authenticate and maximize your espoused investment in multiculturalism.
“We have our language, our jargons,” says Mitchell. “[Our] attitude, thought. How can businesses learn the [culture] of people they are hiring? At CulTives, what we do [for] those organizations that work in communities of color [or] want to work in communities of color is teach them the language, the cadence, the walk.” As in, if they’re going to talk the talk of inclusion, they need to walk the walk.
Returning to the topic of Black women, Mitchell notes, “[It was important to] learn about [their] leadership profiles, leadership execution, whether in the community or corporate jobs, [or] whether their leadership was in the household. I came from the premise that they lead quite differently.”
She observes that from Michelle Obama to Shirley Chisholm to Harriet Tubman and across the ocean, Black women have their own way of running things and doing so quite effectively. “In the patterns on both coasts [where the earliest slavers trafficked] of Africa, women were the ones who kept the family unit together. When the transference to [America] took place in slavery, those women set up communities. So, it’s not [uncharacteristic] for African American women to be head of the household.
It’s a part of history that we have stepped up in that leadership role. In the house, in the community, to transform and improve the way of life — in spite of racism and sexism.”
As for asking herself, back in college, whether she has something to say, Verona Mitchell leaves little doubt about that. As producer-host of myCULTURALConversations (BlogTalk Radio), she makes her perspectives on political and social issues known to some 20,000 listeners in the course of discussing same with guests from across the nation, including Cindy Hooper, author of Conflict: African American Women and the New Dilemma of Race and Gender Politics.
Further, Mitchell developed an offshoot from the successful Internet radio program as editor-in-chief of the myCULTURALConversations online blog with a roster of accomplished contributors, including Marcus Harcus on politics, Theresa Crushshon on culture and education, Reuben J. DeTiege, II on business and culture, and Essenam Agouze on international politics with an emphasis on Africa. She, of course, contributes as well, her most popular essays to date being “Much A-Duty About Black Women’s Booty,” detailing society’s fascination and criticism of the African American female physique, and “The Angry Black President,” assessing and answering political criticism of Barack Obama’s approach to the role of U.S. president.
Making an impact is a matter of course for Verona Mitchell, virtually second nature.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.