The Mitchell Awards Recognize Outstanding Individuals in Delaware

Delaware Business Times, Delaware Today and Delaware State University are excited to announce the inaugural class of Mitchell Award honorees, individuals in the First State who have demonstrated leadership and success in the important areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.

Named for the late Delaware civil rights pioneers Littleton “Lit” Mitchell and Jane Mitchell, the awards recognize those championing efforts to educate, inspire and impact communities across the state to improve opportunities for all, regardless of race, abilities or background.

The late couple had a long history in working for equal rights in Delaware through a difficult period in the state’s history, including on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that desegregated all American schools.

Mitchell Awards committee officials chose the final honorees after receiving input from the community. They will be honored at an inaugural event on Nov. 9.

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“Once again, our country is at a crossroads in our quest for equality and social equity,” says committee member Devona Williams, Ph.D. “With so many competing and conflicting voices, it is important to recognize that the core of our free society rests on ensuring the civil rights of all citizens. For Delaware, the Mitchell Awards recognize the efforts of leaders who have gone the extra mile to create opportunities for all Delawareans.”

Reba Hollingsworth
Courtesy of Reba Hollingsworth

Reba Hollingsworth

Growing up in a segregated Delaware, Hollingsworth was forced to leave home at age 15 to earn a high school diploma and college degree. She would spend a lifetime in public education and become a leader for the Delaware Heritage Commission, the state NAACP and the African American Historical Society. Hollingsworth, one of the foremost authorities in the state on parliamentary law, was inducted into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.

Mitchell Awards
Courtesy of Pathways to Success

Fayetta Blake

The founder and executive director of Pathways to Success, a Georgetown–based nonprofit that helps at-risk children finish their education and become career-ready, Blake first led a barrier-breaking career in financial services. She founded Pathways to Success in 2006, and its accomplishments have earned her numerous accolades, including induction into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.

DANA
Courtesy of DANA

Sheila Bravo

The president and CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA), Bravo has spearheaded support for organizations statewide that push for greater DEIJ representation. Her early career included advertising and brand development, but she transitioned to nonprofits after leading the Rehoboth Art League and today is one of the most vocal leaders in the community.

Mitchell Award
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Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills

Brothers Chukwuocha and Mills are also known as the Twin Poets, a spoken word duo that has earned acclaim as the state’s former poets laureate. They’ve performed at the Delaware Humanities Forum, the Walt Whitman Arts Center, the HBO Def Poetry national and international tours, and at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Their poems have given a voice to Wilmington’s residents and brought recognition to the city’s arts.

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Courtesy of Drew Fennell and Lisa Goodman
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Drew Fennell and Lisa Goodman

Fennell and Goodman were the first same-sex couple to be joined in a civil union in Delaware in 2012, and the moment was a culmination of a lifetime of work by the two women for the civil rights and representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the First State. Fennell, a former leader of the state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter and a chief of staff to former Gov. Jack Markell, and Goodman, a leader of Equality Delaware, advocated for the passage of the civil union law that led to today’s gay marriage law.

Ernesto Lopez
Courtesy of State of Delaware

Ernesto Lopez

Retired Republican State Sen. “Ernie” Lopez made history as the first Hispanic American to serve in Delaware’s upper chamber when he was elected in 2012, remaining in office for a decade. Among his legislative accomplishments: a state Constitutional Amendment to enshrine protection against discrimination based on race, color and national origin as a fundamental right, and opening medical marijuana treatment to epileptic children.

Remembering the Mitchells

Couple Jane Mitchell and Littleton “Lit” Mitchell are legendary for their key roles in the fight for civil rights in the First State. Both were pioneers in breaking Delaware’s tradition of segregation in their separate jobs.

Jane resisted racist norms and cared for white patients both at Governor Bacon Health Center and the Delaware State Hospital. Today, the Delaware Psychiatric Center in New Castle is named after her. Lit was the first Black person to teach white students in Delaware, and later led the state NAACP through the tumultuous 1960s all the way until 1991. He’s remembered for fighting segregation in housing and public spaces, promoting voting rights and advocating for migrants.

“They had been first in so many things,” says Wilmington activist Bebe Coker, another longtime civil rights advocate. “They were very active; they always worked together.”

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Wilmington author Jeanne Nutter, whose book Growing Up Black in New Castle County collects oral histories from the time, remembers the Mitchells well—they were family friends she knew as Aunt Jane and Uncle Lit.

“[He] wasn’t a large man,” Nutter says, “but I called him the pit bull for civil rights.” She remembers how angry he would get about racial injustice, noting his “unbelievable power.” She describes Jane as quiet and elegant, but also as a woman who “took no stuff,” she says. “Like older people would say, ‘she took no tea for the fever.’” (She also notes Jane’s artistic skills, even painting one of the dinosaurs on display in Wilmington.)

In her book, Nutter recounts hardships people of color faced by those who felt racially superior. In one instance, Jane recalled, as a child, seeing a Ku Klux Klan cross burning in her hometown.

Bradley Skelcher, professor emeritus at Delaware State University, points to one incident when Lit led a protest against a diner in Dover that wouldn’t serve Black people. “People are still talking about that,” he says. “He’s just been quite an activist in fighting for equal access and equity…and he paid the price for it, until people became more enlightened.”

No less than Margaret Rose Henry, a pioneering Black female senator from Delaware, who for many years represented part of Wilmington and retired as Senate majority leader in 2018, calls the Mitchells civil rights icons and “a shining light” and remembers their advocacy on a range of issues. She describes them as “kind, loving people who always made you feel valued and important.”

While the Mitchells worked hard to fight racism, Nutter says the pair also were able to have fun and enjoy life. They owned a powerboat and went skiing at a time when you wouldn’t see many Black people on the slopes.

“I saw them laughing and joking and playing cards and just being like normal folk,” Nutter recalls.

Related: A New Charter School Honors a Local Leader in Sussex County

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