If you want to know a man who has a big heart for the future of African American men then you should get to know Dr. John Miller. I met this South Carolina Gamecock last year and I have been personally moved by his passion for learning, mentorship, and skill on the grill. John loves his wife Monica and his beautiful sons; Alex and Aaron.
What does it mean to be a husband?
Being a husband means committing your life to "oneness." I know that seems like over simplifying things just a bit, but honestly, that’s the most important role a husband can play. Loving my wife as I (ought to) love myself can be challenging at times because as a human, I am innately selfish and naturally want to place my wants, needs, and desires above of anyone else's. If we take our role sincerely as men of God who have been blessed to be husbands to our wives then we should strive daily for oneness in our union.
What does it mean to be a father?
Being a father is a dream come true for me. Unfortunately, much like many young men, I do not know or have any relationship with my father. From the time I was old enough to realize the negative impact that not having my father around would have on my life (it really sunk in during my teenage years) I always yearned to be a father and vowed that I would "be a father and husband one day and not a baby daddy." Now that I've been blessed to be a father of two sons (Alex, age 3, and Aaron Jonathan "AJ", deceased), I realize that the experience is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Every day I wake up knowing that being my sons' father is the most important job that I'll ever be given. It's awesome! What's even more awesome is that the experience is a gift. One that I did nothing to earn. Just a tremendous blessing and reflection of God's love for me and my wife.
What is the example you are seeking to set for your children?
To be just that, an example. Far too often are children don't see positive examples of parents who are married to and love each other? Between both sides of our families there isn't one intact marriage union belonging to any of our parents, aunts, and uncles. I want my son to know that with God, all things are possible, and that includes a healthy marriage.
What contributions are you making to your city?
I currently serve as an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In my role as professor, I have the privilege of educating future social work professionals on the values of ethics and service. I also do a lot of service work throughout the State. I have been the President of the 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock since 2011. We've led several community service initiatives during that time, but what I'm most proud of is our commitment to mentoring and the development of our 100 Academy mentoring program. I've also served the city of Camden, AR for the past 3 years as a consultant for a local community-based group known as the "Unity in the Community" committee. The focus of that group is to lead initiatives in Camden that help bring together people from diverse backgrounds in their city. The community organizing work in Camden that I've had the opportunity to participate in has truly been a blessing to me.
What do you desire as a legacy?
For my legacy I want the world to remember that I was a child of God who helped lead people to Christ. I also desire to be a man of influence who has positively helped alter the trajectory of my family and community. When it's all said and done, I’d like to be remembered for being someone who "made a difference."
What is your hope for African American Men?
My hope for my brothers is that we one day achieve our full potential as a people. We've been made strong by the many challenges that we've had to overcome. If the day ever comes when as a people we galvanize ourselves and use the strength and ingenuity we've gained and use it to get on and stay on one accord, we will reach heights as a people that we haven't even imagined. I truly do believe that our best days are yet to come.
In 2012 Dr. Anthony Bradley edited, Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leader, Social Consciousness, & the Cosby Conversation. The intent of the book was to provide a critical and thoughtful examination of various issues within the black community and offer perspectives and solutions grounded in the rich theological tradition of Christianity. Dr. Bradley, as with all the contributors, make the strong argument significant change in the African American community will only occur when “the church will not be silent and sit on the sidelines while our communities and families decline” (p.188).
Keep Your Head Up, has influenced me to not simply look back but eagerly look forward to the possibilities of the future. Keep Your Head Up gave me the encouragement only God can invigorate the needed changes that will bring him the maximum glory. Second, the concept of personhood has been a significant influence in my own thinking about humans in general. I had to go outside my Protestant tradition and into the Catholic tradition to get some solid instruction on a Christian perspective of humanity. In the Gaudium et Spes which is a document of Vatican Council II (1965) the council stated the following,
“…this holy synod, in proclaiming humanity’s noble destiny and affirming that there exists in it a divine seed, offers the human race the sincere cooperation of the church in fostering a sense of sisterhood and brotherhood to correspond to their destiny.”
The conclusion of Keep Your Head Up and the intent of the Gaudium et Spes possess the same theme; humans-yes humans with skin like mine-have a noble destiny because we are image bearers of God. The Gaudium et Spes continues in its introduction that the Church which continues the work of Christ in the Holy Spirit is made able to accomplish this affirmation of man and woman’s dignity.
What are we to say about African American manhood today? It would be easy to consider the negative stereotypes, alarming statistics, and the standard media portrayal of the African American male. Instead African American males must work hard to rise above the negative trappings of a societies notions and determine for themselves a manner of life that reflects an identity which far exceeds the societal boundaries in which one exists. Our manner of life is to be a noble one that reflects the intentions of our Creator and not the societal intentions.
February has the designation of “Black History Month.” Generally, we take a moment to look back at all the great accomplishments, contributions, and figures who have moved this population of people forward in America. As I stated above, I eagerly look forward to the possibilities of the future because God is at work in the lives of African American men. Therefore, during this month I cordially invite you and your friends to read the stories and see the faces of men who are expressing the noble destiny that will one day find its fullness in Christ. You will hear from a professor, musical artist, U.S. Army Soldier, nonprofit organizer, and myself about our lives and hope specifically for African American men.
This is a Photobration and I would encourage you this month to photobrate the African American male who is making a difference in your life.
A very big thanks to Katie Opris for the awesome photography.
Bradley, A. (Ed.). (2012). Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
Second Vatican Council (1965). Gaudium et Spes. In Flannery, A. (Ed.), Vatican Council II, The Basic Edition: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations. Northport, New York: Costello Publishing.
Imagine you are prevented from working at a job you are qualified for because of your past. You meet all the qualifications and show yourself to be in the top 1% of applicants who has the skills to take the company to the next level.
Imagine you are told that in order to succeed you must finish school. So you complete an application for funding and an application to attend your city’s university only to be denied in both cases because your application reveals that you would not be a quality student.
Imagine you and your spouse, who has waited to marry you for seven years wants to move into the new subdivision on the Westside of town. Like a happy couple you visit a real estate agent and bank. You complete all the necessary paperwork, only to discover the subdivision does not welcome people like you.
Finally, I would have you imagine that you finally get the opportunity to shape the direction and future of where you grow up. You have great ideas and your hope rest in a man or woman who has the potential to benefit your hometown. So you stand in line to register to vote only to be told you will not be able to enjoy and exercise a constitutionally protected right.
Now imagine you are a felon.
You are a man or woman who has committed a crime against the state. Now you are on the outside. You have been released back into society and you are required to reintegrate yourself into that society and be a functioning and contributing individual. The laws and requirements though for felons create an environment in which reintegration can be extremely difficult. In areas of employment, education, educational funding, housing, and voting, restrictions are in place that hinders successful reintegration. These laws and requirements crafted in a nation with a “Christian” heritage reveal we are more retributive than restorative.
In the most recent data I could find by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 116,444 felons were under supervision between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. What do the words of Jesus, “forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us,” have to say to these men and women?
What we cannot do is overlook the sin of these men and women who have disrupted the peace of an individual, family or society. This has been done as some resist holding persons personally accountable for their actions. At the same time we cannot be a society that does not create space and opportunity for individuals to start over. We must examine our policies, legal systems and support systems to determine if we are only continuing the incarceration life on the outside of a prison wall.
If felons who have been released are expected to be contributors to their society what does that look like? Surely it involves finding employment thus creating a mechanism in which a residence can be purchased, any fines paid and the ability to live a life. Yet if there are systems in place by which the goal of becoming a healthy contributor to society is severely impeded, then what? Yes there are success stories. There are men and women who have been blessed by the goodwill of some organization or ministry. There are men and women who have had their case heard by governors and Presidents. But for the large number of men and women who may not have such an opportunity what about them?
What would our society look like if we became more about restoration than ongoing retribution? How can we be in a place where sin is punished, the victim is restored and the felon is transformed, no longer defined by his or her crime?
Sin is to be punished
An objective standard exist in our cities, states and nation that governs our lives. This standard or law is what keeps our societies from descending into chaos where the weak are trampled by the strong. When the law is broken, the peace of the society is broken and must be brought back into right standing. When men or women murder, commit burglary or commit some other type of crime that disturbs the peace of an individual, family or society, the law is meant to reestablish that peace. The law reminds us that we are to use what power we have in a manner that does not harm the peaceful environment of an individual or larger society. Therefore, the sin must be punished.
This is one hand on the body called justice. Justice comes in without prejudice and bribe. He takes the wrongdoer, placing him or her on one side of a scale and the law on the other side of the scale. In the end, justice reveals that the wrongdoer is not greater than the law and he or she is punished in a manner that is equitable to the sin committed. Yet there is another hand on the body of justice.
The Victim Restored
When peace is shattered, the pieces of a person or societies life have to be put together again. Think of Newton and the families who lost their precious children recently. Consider the young woman raped and left in her embarrassment and shame. Or consider the nation who suffers the loss of a leader through assassination. The victim-an individual, family, and society- has just experienced a very traumatizing event. Their life has been forever altered on multiple levels and the process of healing will be a slow and arduous journey. The process of healing will require an overpowering presence of grace in the lives people that will radically and incrementally restore them in a new reality. Therefore, the hope-and this is not always the case-is that the victim is no longer defined by the shattering event but is a picture grace in the presence of friends, family and the world.
The felon transformed
In my opinion, forgiveness is one of the most disturbing aspects of the Christian faith. It is disturbing because if we would be honest, we all belong in my first point as those who have sinned yet God forgives. Forgiveness is disturbing because it is a confession that what I have done will not be held against me nor impede my relationship with God. Forgiveness is a means to an end. He forgives with the intention to transform.
What do Jesus words of “forgive us our sins as we also have forgiven those who have sinned against us,” mean for felons as well as us? For the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are felons it means that we no longer regard them by the crime that they were tried, convicted and served time for. We are carrying out the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. We are demonstrating that we are a forgiven people who walk in forgiveness.
Some maybe saying, “What about the child molester? What about the violent rapist? Aren't some people beyond this?” As a husband, father and an organizational leader I have a responsibility to protect them. There are protections in place at various levels of our government that I believe we should take full advantage, demonstrating we are loving and protective stewards of people that God has placed in our hands. What I am wrestling with and what I hope that you will wrestle with as well is the reality that no human, regardless of crime, is outside of the transformative grace of God. So this does cost us.
It will cost us by giving up our bitterness to acknowledge that all men and women are made in the image of God. It will cost us by letting go of our hate, prejudice and stereotypes of such men and women, holding them accountable with the second chance they have been given in life. It will cost us by giving up power over such people as if we have the power to make their lives a living hell now.
Such forgiveness that is driven by the resurrection of Jesus Christ has the power to transform “felons” and “non felons” into a society where people will embrace each other. This is not just a physical embrace. It will be the embrace that removes employment and housing restrictions. It will be the embrace of educational institutions that desire to be diverse. It will be the embrace of a nation that will give back a person’s constitutional right to vote.
What does the kingdom of God look like? It resembles a rich man who came to a town and stole from men, women and children for seven years. At the end of those seven years, a judge heard of the problems, came to town, captured the rich man and ordered him thrown in the jail. At the end of seven more years, the man was released and upon his release, he was welcomed by those same men, women and children with clothing, shelter and a great meal. At the meal, the man in tears asked a young boy, “Why did you do this?” The young boy answered, “Because the judge forgave our families many years ago and so that is how we live to honor the judge.”
Federal Justice Statistics, 2009 - Statistical Tables http://bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2374 p. 31, 2011.
Copyright Arrowmakers 2019