A Chat with MICAH President - Rev. Marilyn Miller
Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) is an interfaith, multi-cultural organization whose focus is to better the lives of all Milwaukee County residents. Since 1988, MICAH has helped communities fight hunger and poverty through food pantries and school breakfast programs. They have diligently worked with banks to drop discriminatory loan hurdles, allowing over 50 families per month to purchase their own homes and stabilize their communities.
Over the years, MICAH has had 10 presidents and we got a chance to speak with the current one, Rev. Marilyn Miller.
The B.E.E. Narrative: How long have you been president of MICAH? What events led up to this position?
Rev. Marilyn Miller: I have been the President of MICAH for almost 4.5 years. I am coming to the end of my term, after serving out a year on the former president’s term, and almost two consecutive, two year terms of my own. I was a member of one of the original founding congregations, Cross Lutheran, so I had participated in MICAH before. After focusing on my work as an educator and anti-racism organizing for a while, a dear friend participating in MICAH thought the organization was ready to dive into the anti-racism conversation, so I returned. By this time, I had gone back to school and became a pastor, serving a MICAH congregation. After about 5 years, I was asked to consider running as President. I was graciously accepted by the membership.
TBN: How did you celebrate Women’s History Month?
RMM: I try to do the same thing in Women’s History Month as I do in Black History Month. I take advantage of the many educational pieces and stories that are presented throughout these days. We learned so little about women’s history when we were growing up. The struggle for women’s equity was still fresh, and we are still not where we should be. Like studying Black history, you had to go on a journey of discovery. Once you did, it opened your eyes to the amazing contributions and legacies of both groups, Black peoples and women.
TBN: Have you experienced ignorance or discrimination in your field for being a woman? For being a Black woman?
RMM: Yes, I have experienced discrimination being Black and a female my whole life. Every institution I have participated in included challenges that I had to face. I had to make up my mind early if I was going to be a victim or victorious. I have chosen to live in a victorious way. I am not saying it was easy. I have had a lot of mental and emotional pain because of this discrimination, racism and sexism, but through my learning to speak out and up for myself and others, I learned to stand in the face of adversity. I have stripes down my back, but I am still here and still standing.
TBN: What life advice would you give to young Black women today?
RMM: Advice I would give to young Black women today would include first, find/develop a relationship with a spiritual higher power. For me, it is my relationship with God, whom we call by many names and serve in many ways. Next, I would say learn to love yourself just as you are – you are enough. You are an amazing creation with power and gifts embedded within you. Love yourself only second to God or your higher power. No man/woman/other should come before you loving yourself. Then, learn how to organize, just to be able to do your best living. I would encourage those who can, not to start having children early. There is so much you need to learn and do in life to prepare to be that great mother/partner/servant, whatever you so choose. If you have been hurt, I would encourage you to get help. Counseling and therapy can help you see the world with new eyes. So many are stuck because they can’t move on from the trauma or hurt that happened in the past that is robbing them of their todays and tomorrows.
TBN: What has been one of your favorite days on the job? As a pastor?
RMM: My favorite times as a pastor are when I get to interact with the people. Watching young people grow into adulthood doing positive things gives me joy. So serving about 60 youth a summer in our work program has been hard and wonderful. I love doing Community Bible study with a group. “Iron sharpens iron,” and in our conversations we help to make each other sharper and better. Serving the community and working with our Greater Milwaukee Synod (ELCA) partners in any capacity has brought me great joy whether it was through our anti-racism work, Strong Baby Sanctuary, Son Shine Ministry, sharing household cleaning items, serving meals to the men at Serenity Inns, worshiping or leading Bible study at the Felmers Chaney Correctional Center. I have been richly blessed or working with the members, congregations, synagogues, mosques, and organizations of MICAH/Gamaliel/WISDOM. I love people and see God in all. Every person and creation is precious, as my parents taught me.
TBN: How can the community assist MICAH and organizations like it to fight for equality and justice?
RMM: I believe community organizing tools are a great resource no matter who you are or your life’s journey. I wish I had understood this and really focused on learning these skills earlier in my life. Even still, I have greatly benefited from learning them when I did. I would say, first off, learn how to organize for your own life. If people do that, they will help organizations like MICAH because they will be active participants in the public sphere. Once you see how organizing helps one to get clarity, form community and work for change, you come towards organization’s like ours, ready to help transform institutions and systems which is what we focus on. We are working for long term change for the masses. The community can assist us by being a part of the “organized people and organized money” that then wields power to make change happen.
TBN: Can you give us some encouraging words at this time of uncertainty?
RMM: For those of us who believe, God is in control. Do not be discouraged by what you see and hear. The earth is groaning under the sin and abuse we have put upon her, but we can turn things around, but the time is now. I would encourage every person to think about what you can do today and in the future to make your life better and the lives of those around you better, then do it. Let your anger and bitterness and fear go. It will not serve you well. We were created to be loved and loving. Do that, and you shall experience joy and hope. I pray God’s peace, blessings, and good health for all.
Rev. Marilyn Miller, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 3806 W. Lisbon Ave. and MICAH President , www.micahMKE.org.