Now in her early eighties, Olivia Mitchell has been an active pillar of the Los Angeles community for nearly five decades. While her legacy working under Tom Bradley on numerous Youth Advisory Boards and in myriad other capacities as a civil servant speaks for itself, the new Olivia E. Mitchell Youth Council amplifies this living success story exponentially.
At the behest of City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez (District 7), the City of Los Angeles launched its first ever Youth Council, named after Ms. Mitchell, as its inaugural endeavor of the Youth Development Department, which was established in Summer 2021. On August 5, the first cohort of Mitchell’s namesake program–which includes 30 young people between the ages of 16 and 25–was introduced and sworn in at 11:00 a.m., at the City Council meeting at Los Angeles City Hall.
“This is very special to me,” Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez stated in a video announcement released by the City of Los Angeles, “As a high school student at San Fernando High School, I was chosen to participate in ‘Student Day in Government’ at the invitation of Ms. Olivia Mitchell, who was the then director of the Office of Youth Development for Mayor Tom Bradley.”
Were it not for the investment in youth and commitment to outreach on the part of Ms. Mitchell back in 1992, Councilwoman Rodriguez, who is only the 3rd Latina to serve as a city councilperson in Los Angeles’ history, may not have set about navigating her journey to her current esteemed position.
Such is the case for countless other Los Angelenos, as it’s been calculated that Ms. Mitchell has directly mentored over 2000 youth and, indirectly, thousands more, including Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, who is currently serving her third term.
“A lot of young people I worked with over those years have gone on to do marvelous things,” Ms. Mitchell reflected.
Mitchell started with the city in 1974 and even before that worked on youth programs with the District Attorney Chief Advisory Board.
“I had teenagers work with me as a team,” she remembered. “When I had that job in 1972, Black gangs were reemerging in South LA, and that was mostly what we focused in on. So, we did a lot of justice work…we had a law awareness week in our schools. For a week, we’d go into the schools and take over every social studies class, every period, and bring in parole officers, probation officers.”
Creative programming that transfers practical knowledge to often disenfranchised community youth has been a recurrent theme throughout Mitchell’s tenure.
“I have been in positions where I can discuss policy, where we can create programs that are helpful to people and not inadvertently harmful because you didn’t have the right people in the room,” Mitchell recalled.
Some years back, she led strategic field trips designed so that young people from different communities could better understand each other’s living situations.
“The kids from Watts and San Pedro and East L.A., when we took them to the Valley and showed them what a rec center looked like in the Valley as opposed to a rec center in their community, and they’re all public facilities – [I asked them] how does that happen?” Mitchell explained.
The excursion was followed by conversations about the importance of having elected officials and engaging with civic affairs.
Today, Ms. Mitchell, who is currently Assistant Chief Grants Administrator in the City of Los Angeles Community Investment for Families Department, focuses on the same principles, ever emphasizing the value of engagement to those interested in working for the city on any level.
“[I would] remind them that they really are public servants, and they can do that no matter what their job is. If they’re an engineer, if they’re a clerk typist, whatever they’re doing, there is a way to connect through their city service, and they have a responsibility outside of that to their families and to their communities to share what they know, to be engaged not just sit at [their] desk,” Mitchell said.
The 30 members of the Olivia E. Mitchell Youth Council seem poised to stand tall. Selected from 518 applicants across numerous districts in Los Angeles, these bright youth representing each of the city’s council districts will serve for a year, learning the inner workings of the City of Los Angeles, having a seat at the table where their voices may be heard at City Hall.
Notably, and promisingly, during the one-month submission window in February, a wide range of young people applied to the program.
“From an ethnic point of view, this reflects really what Los Angeles looks like,” noted Mitchell, as she reviewed the report.
The breakdown of applicants found 53 identifying as Latino/Hispanic, 86 Black/African-American, 82 Asian/Pacific, and 23 White, with smaller numbers of those identifying as Native American and Other.
“The surprise to me is that the largest number of applicants actually came from Council District 12, you know, like deep in the Valley,” Mitchell laughed.
It would seem that bygone field trip she led made quite an impact.
Learn more at youthcouncil.lacity.org.