BLOOMFIELD – He calls them his family. He knows their stories and their struggles. He looks into their eyes, he says, and can see God’s work looking back at him.
“If I can be a mirror, a way for them to see their own reflection and to see God, then I’m doing my job,” he said.
Deacon Arthur Miller has served as director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the past five years. His job, he says, is to bring hope to the streets.
He works everyday with people like Herman “Big Bird” Cintron, who was a leader in the Los Solidos gang, and Tasha Negron-Mendez, who knew street life all too well. He also works daily with prostitutes, drug addicts, drug dealers and gang members.
A life-long devout Catholic, Miller watched as the church struggled to meet the cultural needs of its members. Of the 64 million Catholics in the U.S., only 3 percent are black.
“The church needs to minister not only to the spirit, but to the body,” he says.
Recognizing this need, he says, the church began seeking ways to fight, “the twin demons of poverty and violence that plague our streets, primarily in our black and brown communities.”
Miller has always been an advocate for social justice. Growing up in Chicago, he remembers his mother telling him about the horrors of the Holocaust and the unfairness of the Japanese internment camps. She also taught him that to say Christopher Columbus discovered America, was like saying those who already lived on the land weren’t human.
So when the Civil Rights Movement began in the 1960s, it was only natural for Miller to march and protest for equality, even though it landed him in jail.
His passion for equality was also fueled by the murder of his childhood friend Emmett Till. In 1955, Till was beaten to death at the age of 14 after whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. His killers were exonerated.
Miller later wrote a book about Till called, “The Journey to Chatham: Why Emmett Till’s Murder Changed America, a Personal Story.”
Though Miller’s fervor for civil rights remained strong, he pursued a career in corporate America. He served as an executive for Aetna, and later opened an investment firm in New York.
But there was always something inside him that called him to the church. About 12 years ago he met a Hartford priest that changed his life. Rev. Alfred Janicke of St. Michael’s Parish in Hartford was a saint in Miller’s eyes.
“He was the most gentle, most wonderful person I knew. He walked around the north end of Hartford wearing a little cap that said ‘Jesus is my boss’,” Miller recalls.
Janicky encouraged Miller to become a deacon and Miller said everything came together after that.
He recently helped Cintron and Negron-Mendez complete a course in non-violence, which they will use when telling their story to troubled youth.
“When I got out of jail someone told me about him (Miller)…he helped me get a job real quick and began motivating me. I think without him I would have died,” he said.
Negron-Mendez said Miller taught her that with God on her side, she can have hope once again.
On Nov. 6 the Hartford’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries will host its annual fundraiser at the Courtyard Marriott in Farmington. For information call (860) 243-0648.
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