Black Is Beautiful is a series of interviews with interesting, intelligent and immersed-in-their-passion local African American women.
Whether she's planning community events like Battle of the Chefs or working towards equity and inclusion for more Milwaukeeans, Samantha Mitchell never loses sight of what makes her feel grounded and at peace.
"I make free time," she told me during a recent meet-up at the Milwaukee Public Market. "Self-care is very important to me."
And Mitchell's energy reflects her commitment to community, important causes and self – all at the same time. She is inspired and articulate, yet also calming and kind.
Professionally, Mitchell has more than 10 years of marketing and community relations experience. She works as the engagement manager of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, where she leads efforts that promote equity and inclusion, while engaging a diverse and prominent pool of donors.
Mitchell is also the owner and CEO of SamanthaStarr Events, sits on several boards and committees that support youth development, arts and LGBTQ+ communities, and holds a B.A. in Public Relations from Columbia College Chicago.
Personally, she's easy going and fun. She loves travel, music, spending time with her grandmother and good beer.
Dip in to part of our recent convo on a sunny Tuesday afternoon:
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Milwaukee. I lived on the North Side, the East Side and eventually we settled in Glendale. I went to Glen Hills Middle School and graduated from Nicolet High School in 2005.
How was your Nicolet High School experience?
It was good. I really enjoyed my time at Nicolet. Honestly, being able to plan the Black History Program while I was there sparked my love for event planning. If I think about it, I have been event planning since I was 16.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Columbia College in Chicago. I was a Public Relations major with a concentration in marketing. I was a member of the Public Relations Student Society, American Advertising Federation Student Club and VP of the Columbia College Marketing Association. I was also a member of a couple of dance groups, so you can say I had the full art school experience. The great thing about Columbia was it allowed me to grow so much in those four years. There were always opportunities to plan and execute visions and we were really encouraged as students to hone our creativity.
How specifically did you change while at Columbia?
It matured me very quickly. I lived in Downtown Chicago in an apartment, so I had a “real life.” I went grocery shopping and did all the city things. I learned so much about networking, how to be a bridge builder and so much about relationships in general.
What led you back to Milwaukee after college?
I graduated in 2009, during the recession, and I tried to look for a full-time PR role for a few years but couldn’t secure a permanent position. My mom suggested I come back and regroup, telling me that I could always go back to Chicago. I came back with a vengeance and a plan, but being back home allowed me to be reacquainted with Milwaukee as an adult. I worked at the Journal, then Guaranty Bank, and in 2015 decided to start my own event planning business SamanthaStarr Events.
You have a full-time day job as well, right?
I do. I am the engagement manager of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.
So basically you have two full-time jobs: your event planning business and a professional role with United Way?
Well, if you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll say I have six jobs. In addition to my full-time roles, I’m also a personal wine consultant, an Uber and Lyft driver and I also just finished a real estate course, so I plan to dive into that realm soon, too.
What event that you’ve planned makes you the most proud?
Battle of the Chefs! I’m celebrating my fifth year! This year it will be a food truck event and will take place at The Chef’s Table on August 29 instead of the usual October date. It’s such a fun community event that ties together my passion for food and diversity and inclusion. It’s also a fundraiser for a different charity every two years. This year the recipient is Teens Grow Greens and I’m really excited to partner with them.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? Do you have “free” time?
I make free time! Self-care is very important to me. I love to cook and travel. I just got back from North Carolina and Las Vegas. This fall I’m going to pop my international travel game and go to the Dominican Republic and Aruba. I also love listening to music, spending time with family and taking the occasional scenic stroll.
Where do you live these days?
I live on the North Side in my grandmother’s duplex. She lives downstairs and I live upstairs. It feels good to be so close to family and on a block that is familiar to me.
So are you your grandmother’s caretaker?
Oh no. Not at all. I have to stop her from running my life! She is completely independent. I just really enjoy living close to her. She just celebrated a birthday and I won’t say her age, but she’s really young at heart. A firecracker.
What would you like to see change in Milwaukee?
I don’t even know where to begin. When you live in ‘216 (53216) you see how Milwaukee is not great for everyone. Most of the work I do every day revolves around jobs. How do we advocate and reduce barriers for people to get jobs? How do we get people eager to work and then how do we get them a job that’s sustainable for a family? There are so many roadblocks. No matter what a person wants to do: go to college, learn a new trade like carpentry, etc., they have to figure out how to make it work while they are in school and apprenticing or interning for free, when they don’t have generational wealth to fall back on.
What do you appreciate about Milwaukee?
I love summertime Milwaukee. Obviously, things were different last year, but we are slowly getting a bit back to normal. I love festivals: Summerfest, Brady Street, Pride Fest. You name it and I’m there. I also love the food and drinks scene here. I enjoy trying new restaurants and meeting people for food and conversation. Oh and I love a good beer.
You seem to have a very well-balanced life.
I do. Physical and mental health is very important to me. I need to unwind and unplug. I have chronic neck and back pain, so I focus a lot on peace and meditation. I focus on staying positive and blocking out as much negativity as I can. Maintaining my self-care and enjoying the work I do allows me to enjoy life and really lean in to being the best version of me!
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.