A Redbird Legacy is a current Illinois State University student or alumni with a guardian, parent, grandparent, or sibling who attended or attends Illinois State.

Deciding to attend Illinois State was more than just choosing a college for integrated marketing communication major Kai Johnson. It was the stepping stone toward deepening her relationship with her mother, economics grad Shavonda Mitchom ’99. 

“With my mom having a connection to the University, I’m able to talk to her about different things on campus,” Johnson said. “She’s even able to help with decisions on courses and programs of study because we majored in similar areas of study.”

Throughout her four years at Illinois State, Johnson has been involved on campus as a resident assistant, a member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, and the vice president of professional development on the Business Week team. Her involvement on campus has impacted both her and her mother.

“As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available. Seeing all of these opportunities through my daughter and her friends, I have a newfound appreciation and love for ISU,” Mitchom said. “I can see how much it has helped her grow and develop.”

Though Mitchom felt limited during her time as a student, she and her daughter have been able to share one experience as a Redbird, being a resident assistant. Johnson admits it’s an opportunity she may not have taken advantage of had it not been for her mother’s influence.

“My role model is my mom. I’ve been able to watch her come from ISU and be so successful,” Johnson said. “It clearly helped her with where she is today, and I wanted to go there and do the same thing.”

As she continues to follow in her mother’s footsteps, Johnson makes sure to bring her role model along for the ride. Mitchom has returned to campus to visit and be involved in her daughter’s campus organizations and projects.

“For some of the leadership roles that Kai has on campus, she has involved me in different ways, which has been really amazing,” Mitchom said. “In her role as one of the coordinators of diversity and inclusion for Business Week, she had a panel on natural hair, which is something I am big on promoting for young Black women, especially in the workplace. So, I was able to come and be a part of that panel.”

As Johnson interns with United Airlines and finishes her senior year, she and her mother are excited to continue to create long-lasting memories and traditions that will continue their connection to Illinois State University for years to come.


Illinois State wants to recognize all legacy families for their continued generational support with a special brunch on Sunday, October 3. The brunch will spotlight Redbird families and help legacies stay connected to the University. The event will include brunch, a program featuring President Terri Goss Kinzy, and a legacy pinning ceremony exclusive for current families. Register for the event by September 28.