Parker Peters/Daily Collegian
Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Speaking for change and justice, Kolton Mitchell is using his social media platform because he doesn’t want to go quiet

Kolton Mitchell is leading on and off the court, showing the type of leader he is

January 12, 2021

“Just unsubscribed. I was just trying to watch basketball content, but you had to go and mess that up.”

That comment, written from a user on YouTube, was pinned at the top of Kolton Mitchell’s video titled “I’ve Had Enough.”  It was pinned by Kolton to show just how much farther we have to come as a nation, while under it was a stream of loving and supporting comments. The video was created by Kolton along with his teammates on the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to speak up to racism in America.

Mitchell started his YouTube channel last summer in hopes of bringing smiles and entertainment at a time when the United States was struggling with a deadly pandemic and balancing inflicting wounds of racism and racial injustice. Before the video, Kolton was no stranger to thousands of views, people supporting him along with the other side of the light: hate comments. He already had a dozen videos centered around being a Division I basketball player, but this was not the time to go silent. He realized there were bigger things than basketball that were taking place.

After the incident in Kenosha, Wis. in which 29-year-old Jacob Blake was left paralyzed due to seven-gun shots directed at his back from a white police officer, Kolton felt compelled that something needed to be done. He doesn’t watch TV that much, but when he walked by it one night and overheard the news station talking about the incident, he went right to Twitter.

Blake, a black man, was shot in front of his three children. The video quickly spread throughout social media.

“Enough has always been enough, but people don’t really get that. What are we going to do to change it?” Kolton said. “We always talk about change and what needs to change, but nothing really seems to change.”

Kolton was in the car with fellow teammate Tre Mitchell when the two immediately realized something needed to be done. They knew the other teammate he had to lure into this was senior Carl Pierre, who’s the captain of the young UMass team. Kolton’s plan was set on making a video, but he didn’t quite know how it would go down. He already had a platform on YouTube with over 20,000 subscribers and understood he had the ability to make an impactful statement. But Kolton didn’t care about the views.

Whether it was 100 or 100,000 people viewing the video, he wanted to get how he was feeling out to the public. The original plan was to have just him, T. Mitchell and Pierre be a part of a video with videographers to film them but the next day after the Blake shooting took place, the trio walked into practice with chairs in a circle placed around the gym and a whiteboard in the background.

The coaching staff and players all talked about what was transpiring in the country. There was no basketball, no practice, no worry about pick-and-rolls or who was going to win the Atlantic 10. The conversation was geared towards hearing each other’s feelings on the situation and what they could do moving forward to make a difference.

For Kolton, he appreciates UMass coach Matt McCall for understanding his players. Kolton knows McCall doesn’t lie. The rest of the team knows it, too. McCall skipped practice that day. In the moment, he wanted his squad to talk through their feelings.

Assistant coach Tony Bergeron approached McCall that day asking for the coaching staff to make a video. McCall needed no further instruction because the next day, the process of making a video was underway.

The title of the video, “I’ve Had Enough…” meant a lot to Kolton who understood the impact he could have through his platform on YouTube. He knew the hate would come and people would unsubscribe but that would not weigh him down. The love and support from his family soon poured in, the comments on YouTube quickly began to grow and the support from his coaches and teammates was felt.

For Kolton, this type of leadership didn’t come out of the blue. He has been like this since he was a little kid. He attributes the way he was raised to his parents, Ashley and Vincent, who have been there every step of the way. It’s just who he is.

“He’s very likeable,” Ashley said. “He’s always smiling, he’s a leader. He is an up lifter, he’s an encourager and he is always positive. He always has a good attitude. He wants to better not just himself, but everybody else. He just will go over and beyond for anybody, he is there for you whether it is on the court or off the court. He is very kind hearted.”

They couldn’t have been prouder of their son when he put out the video standing up to racism.

“We didn’t realize how powerful it was going to be after we saw the actual video,” Vincent said. “It was a type of video that sent chills down your body, it was really, really powerful. Especially being in certain situations that you can identify with. You understand what people go through, that some people may not think that his family has gone through it, or anybody he has known that has gone through something like that.”

The message from Kolton was felt across the board, especially to his parents who knew that he has never been afraid of backlash in the name of standing up for what was right.

Raised in Fort Myers, Fla., Kolton is the youngest of three children with two older sisters. His parents knew from a young age that he had something special.

You name the sport, Kolton was involved.

He grew up in a household that was filled with sports. Both his parents coming from a background of sports certainly helped Kolton develop a passion for athletics. From soccer, horseback riding, basketball and baseball, the Mitchell’s made sure their kids had the ability to try anything they wanted.

They wanted their kids to have the same childhood as them, being active outside and taking in any opportunity that comes their way. With two older sisters, he was constantly dragged around to watch their sporting events, making sure to draw some attention on the sidelines whether it was dribbling a basketball or soccer ball.

“Everyone thinks their parents are the best, but my parents truly raised all three of us to the best of their abilities. I’ve never seen color in my life, which is awesome. I hope I can teach my kids the same,” Kolton said.

The Mitchell’s never steered their kids in a certain direction, instead letting them choose their own path. Being on the shorter side of height in basketball, a growth spurt didn’t happen for Kolton until later. It came around sophomore year when he grew from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-3.

The tough part soon came for Kolton when deciding between which sport to focus on more, but the reliable one in basketball always had a calling for him. Originally attending Fort Myers High School, Kolton knew it wasn’t the right fit. After spending a little bit of time there during his freshman year, he went on the hunt with his parents trying to find the right school for him.

Ashley knew her son needed to play for a school where he would face tough competition. She understood Kolton’s passion and wanted to make sure her and Vincent found the right place for him to succeed. Reaching out to different college coaches for recommendations on prep schools, they quickly found how much of a grind it would be putting Kolton through one of the programs. But it was something that Kolton wanted since he thrived on facing a challenge to better himself as a player.

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Soon came along Victory Rock Prep, a small boarding school only an hour and a half drive away in Sarasota. It was the perfect fit for Kolton who wanted a school that would push him to reach his potential. Ashley also really liked the fact that it was only a short drive away, so they could still watch his games and keep in touch.

“It ended up being a great experience for him and building his confidence. He definitely became a better player,” Ashley said.

Loren B. Jackson, the founder and head coach of Victory Rock Prep, was the perfect coach for Kolton. Not one to shy away from adversity or turn down a challenge, Kolton was confident that Jackson was the right person to better his career.

“I love Coach Jackson,” Kolton said. “He doesn’t ever not tell the truth. He tells you how it is. He tells you what you need to do to get better. My old coach at my high school told me I needed to grow, I don’t control that. Coach Jackson actually told me what I needed to do.”

Jackson saw Kolton develop right in front of his eyes, blossoming into a leader as he went through high school. The challenge of Florida high school basketball was legit, but Kolton was prepared for it under Jackson.

Victory Rock Prep is geared towards individual attention, trying to maximize potential in the time a player is there. Jackson really saw Kolton develop in the four years he attended the school. Offensively, Kolton became more of a threat in the jump from sophomore to junior year and made a bigger leap of progression from his junior to senior year.

“I spent a lot of time with his development as a leader,” Jackson said. “When you have a good rapport with the point guard, it becomes a player-led team.”

It was no secret to Kolton that the training and daily regimen that Jackson set forth was a grind. But he was up for the challenge because he knew he would come out of it as a better player. Looking back now, he appreciates how much conditioning and training Jackson had him do.

“[In Florida] you have a lot of good programs. That just helps with day in and day out, the competition level you play,” Jackson said.

Loren Christian Jackson, son of coach Jackson, was teammates with Kolton during his senior year at Victory Rock Prep. Having went on to play college basketball, Loren still keeps in touch with Kolton and enjoys being someone to look up too. In his junior year at Akron, Loren was the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. The two would go one-on-one in Loren’s last season with Kolton trying to take in any tips of advice from the senior at the time.

When Loren saw the video Kolton put out with regard to standing up to racism, it came as no surprise that he was the leading force behind it.

“Most definitely I felt the same way Kolton did when [he released that video],” Loren said. “As a young black man fearing for your life in certain situations, it is something that strikes a chord with any of us when we talk about that stuff. I agree with so much of his video, I told him after that he dropped it ‘Man you hit that spot on’.”

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

Kolton’s YouTube platform in some respects, nearly blew up from the start. After starting his channel during the pandemic, he knew he wanted to do something that would be fun and bring entertainment to people. With nearly 30 videos, he has racked up more than half a million views on his channel.

Loren Jackson is one of Kolton’s biggest supporters. Having watched most of his videos, he really enjoys seeing Kolton coming up with creative content.

Another huge supporter of Kolton is NBA player Jae Crowder. Both of their dads played college basketball together and formed a friendship from there.

“I’ve basically known him since he was born, obviously we grew up together,” Crowder said. “I used to spend summers with my dad in Florida, and he lived in the same community as Kolton. When I would come spend time with my dad in the summer, I was able to continue to form a friendship with him,”

As those summers went on, Crowder and Kolton grew closer and closer. A friendship that started off through their dads, soon transformed into a relationship that would last a lifetime. Crowder has been watching Kolton from a distance, seeing him thrive throughout high school and now eventually into college.

Seeing him grow into a role as a successful point guard in college has made Crowder realize how neat it has been seeing him develop over the years not only as a player but as a person off the court. Crowder really appreciates the ability to call Kolton a friend and being the role of someone who will always be a phone call away for any advice or help.

Kolton made sure to include Crowder in one of his YouTube videos. Over the summertime, the two linked up for a workout where Kolton got the chance to train with an NBA trainer and played a game of pool with Crowder. It was just Kolton’s second video on his channel, one that nearly hit 20,000 views. The work ethic of Kolton doesn’t surprise Crowder nor does his maturity.

Crowder sees similarities in Kolton and his dad Vincent. The energy of Vincent has been passed down to Kolton along with his affectionate personality.

“His dad is cool as heck man,” Crowder said. “You want to go to Kolton’s house because you know you are going to have a good time. You can go swimming at any time at night. As long as you do what he asks and don’t be a bad kid. That was a great house to be a part of. His dad always had great energy and a great vibrant feel for kids, and a great relationship with all of Kolton’s friends.”

Crowder finds it to be no coincidence that Kolton has embraced the personality and traits of his dad. He wasn’t surprised to see Kolton leading the way with making a video condemning the racial injustices in this country. With Crowder using his own platform through various social media outlets, he knows how strong it was for Kolton to speak up as a young man.

“Just to see everyone take advantage of their platform is great to shed light on that,” Crowder said. “I just feel at this time our whole world needs it. To see him do that, get behind it and stand on it and show what is right is great for our world. It is great for people to know who he is and what he stands for. It shows what type of father he has and how he was raised.”

It is no question Kolton has tremendous skills and talent on the basketball court, but his new found calling through YouTube has given him a different passion and outlook on life. With more videos to come, the ideas are just getting started. His parents Vincent and Ashley know that Kolton can be successful at anything he puts his mind too, and his YouTube page and basketball career attest to that so far.

“I just want them to choose something that is rewarding for them, can stick with and do for a good portion of their life and be happy with and successful,” Ashley said.

Frederick Hanna can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @FrederickHIII.