MITCHELL FAMILY MIGRATION STORY
Artist: Zephyr Rhew
Writers: Sara Bruckmeier and Zach Franklin
Completed in 2018
Link to full Interview video
Shamar Mitchell was born in San Francisco, but when he was still a baby his mother moved to Detroit, Michigan to be with her family. Shamar was so young when they moved that he didn’t remember his father at all, as if they had never met.
Shamar’s grandmother had moved to Detroit as part of the Great Migration of African Americans moving from the South in search of opportunity. Their family became very successful there - she owned a hair salon in Detroit, and her brother was the superintendent of schools.
Joiya grew up in Atlanta, Georgia with her grandmother, mother, and sister. Joiya’s grandmother chose not to migrate from the South during the Great Migration. She stayed home and was the breadwinner of the family, even though she never graduated from school or learned to drive. Joiya’s grandmother was also a civil rights activist. She marched many times, including with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 Selma march for voting rights.
Joiya and Shamar met in Atlanta in college. After college they moved to Chicago for Joiya’s career, but it was not a good fit. Chicago was too snowy, and they couldn’t find a neighborhood to suit their family. Chicago was very segregated. They found an apartment they liked on the North side, but the predominantly white neighborhood was not a welcoming place for them. They started taking their kids to playgrounds in neighborhoods with more ethnic diversity.
Meanwhile, an aunt had helped Shamar’s father get back in touch. When Shamar met his father they clicked immediately. The family visited him every year San Francisco. When he was diagnosed with stage four cancer, they moved to the Bay Area to be with him. It made Shamar’s father very happy to be reunited with his family. Three months later he passed away.
Joiya and Shamar wanted to move to a place where people of different cultures and backgrounds lived together, rather than separated into different neighborhoods like in Chicago. After visiting a number of times, and going to the Flea Market and Juneteenth Festival, they realized Berkeley was the place for them.
Joiya and Shamar love Berkeley for the people, the community, and how Berkeley makes a difference in the world. Joiya continues in her grandmother’s tradition of activism, and participates whenever she can in Berkeley’s many marches and protests. Joiya also knows her grandmother would be proud that she had the courage to move across the country to find a place where her family would be happy.