A worthy Suffolk ‘Ham’

Published 9:36 pm Thursday, March 15, 2012

There’s never any doubt when Abraham Mitchell steps into a room. Conversations stop, heads turn and necks crane as people from all walks of life stop what they’re doing to get a glimpse of the man in all his sartorial splendor.

Whether you know him as Mr. CIAA or “Ham,” both names seem equally appropriate. His fame within the realm of the NCAA’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Division II conference comprising primarily historically African-American institutions, is unparalleled, perhaps even by the star athletes who have played in that conference. In fact, the conference honored Mr. CIAA with an award for 33 years of fashion during its recent basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C.

Few who have seen Mitchell publicly — whether at CIAA games or in Suffolk parades — could argue with the apparent appropriateness of his other nickname. Even fewer, however, would argue against the notion that he’s not just one of Suffolk’s favorite characters, but also one of its favorite people. You’ll search long and hard to find a kinder man.

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Mitchell has excited crowds at CIAA tournaments for many years with his trademark homemade suits, strutting around basketball arenas with matching coat, hat, shoes and even walking sticks. Spectators and even announcers have relished the opportunity to see and comment on Mitchell’s mid-game quick-changes, which often earn him time on the arenas’ big screens.

For crowds of people lining the sidewalks during various parades in Suffolk through the years, the show has been even more fun. They’ve been given up-close looks as he strolls by, and then they’ve watched as he hopped into his car — with windows papered over for privacy — and performed a rolling quick-change, only to emerge in an entirely new, perfectly groomed suit.

Not many people can boast of having created their own local legend. Abraham “Ham” Mitchell, Mr. CIAA to people all over the mid-Atlantic region, has done just that. It was appropriate of the athletic conference he’s loved so well to return a little of that love to him.