Mitchell, who has lived in Colorado Springs since 1998, is an unapologetic black man who carries his masculinity like a warrior always ready for battle. But beyond his courageous persona, he possesses an unlikely gentleness of spirit and a penchant for quiet reflection. He owns his masculinity, but you can see he’s put in the work to grow from any toxicity.
You may have seen or heard him around town rallying a crowd, spittin’ bars or reciting poetry with equal amounts of conviction. He uses his art to stand up for the voiceless or motivate a crowd to action. Once you’ve heard him, you don’t forget it.
Earlier this year, Mitchell released his second small book of poetry titled Drowning in Salt Water. His first book, Words from a Field Negro, was recognized by the Pikes Peak Art Council, and he received the People’s Choice Golden Ticket Award from My Black Colorado magazine for top author in Colorado Springs in 2019.
I wasn’t able to make it to the book release for Salt Water, so I missed the context and commentary around it. But for some reason I was drawn to its cover: a picture of a black man naked from the chest up, face in his hands, head surrounded by a translucent white bubble stained with different gradients of rust. The book features detailed and expressive illustrations by Jasmine Holmes, a multimedia artist and graduate teaching assistant in the art and history department at Colorado State University.
Initially I imagined the book to be an artistic depiction of the everyday realities and pressures this black man feels traveling through a white-dominated society. I really wasn’t prepared for what was enclosed in its pages.
This book is probably Mitchell’s most courageous work thus far. In poetic form, it documents the raw process of Mitchell’s recovery as an adult survivor of child sexual assault. It explores being trapped in a masculinity that doesn’t allow for the catharsis of flowing tears he was entitled to as a victim. The book contains his rage, thoughts of suicide, and his need for his abuser to take responsibility for his actions.
Entrenched in a culture prone to homophobia, Mitchell found it difficult to come forward. “[B]ack when it happened, I knew I didn’t like it ... but this happened in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” he says, “in a time when men didn’t get raped.” (Or rather, didn't talk about it.)
Mitchell says he struggled to talk about what happened to him and buried his feelings. He did reach out to a family member once, but his concerns were dismissed. He never told his parents. He didn’t want them to feel burdened with guilt that they didn’t know and therefore couldn’t do anything about it. But his growth as an activist compelled him to break his silence.
He says the #MeToo movement, the support of friends who have also survived sexual assault (mostly women), plus the support of his partner, helped him look at his own trauma. “I started thinking, how have I contributed to toxic masculinity? And within that reflection, I started to dwell [on what happened to me],” he says.
That’s when the poetry began to flow.
Mitchell believes sexual assault of young boys happens more than we think in the black community. He hopes that coming out with his story will shed light on the issue and help others relate — “especially the brothers.”
“We’re the survivors of many things, but this is definitely a taboo subject: sexual assault among black males,” he says. “You definitely don’t want to snitch on anyone in the black community.”
But as Ashley Cornelius says in the forward to Salt Water, “seas of salt give us buoyancy.”
Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.