Dr. Charles Mitchell is no stranger to Hixson High School. Joining the administration staff as assistant principal in 2012, Mitchell monitors the halls that he once walked as a student.
"Coming to Hixson High School has the opportunity to change your life," he said. "It changed mine."
Mitchell said he knew that an education could pull him out of his impoverished situation in East Chattanooga. So he walked three hours down Amnicola Highway and across a bridge each day to the school he thought of in high regard as "the Sistine Chapel."
"I wasn't worried about the miles," said Mitchell. "I was willing to walk 20 miles to get out of my situation."
The year before his freshman year at Hixson, his house burned down and his family lived on the streets or in random shacks, but he never gave up. He said many people at Hixson High inspired him to succeed.
"I wanted to be something in life," said Mitchell. "I grew up in a crack-infested neighborhood. My dad tried to kill me. But I never let the environment define who I was as a person."
He said things began to look up for him at HHS, where he joined the band, football team and wrestling team. He said he listened to teachers and coaches. He said then-football coach Julian Kaufman, former wrestling coach Roger Vandergriff and current teacher Suzanne Rushworth were all big inspirations in his life, helping him turn it around for the better.
Now he serves as a leader at HHS, both in administration and athletics, and aims to inspire youth facing challenges.
"A coach is a mentor that teaches life skills and discipline," said Mitchell, adding that his new role is similar to his previous coaching position in Dalton. "Helping people is more important than winning games. One wrestler I helped get a Green Card was Eduardo Gutierrez. He is now a U.S. Marine and grateful to be able to provide for his family."
Mitchell said he wants to help Hixson students learn that there is no obstacle too great to overcome.
"At the end of the day, you're here to serve people," said Mitchell. "I believed I could achieve the American dream at this school. To me that's what any school should be about. Any socioeconomic status student can achieve. I want to continue to change lives in a positive direction because that's what God put me here for."