On June 4, 2015, I received official notification that I was to be the new Assistant Principal of Loren Miller Elementary School. It was a bit surreal and I have to be honest that the name of the school did not initially register in my nervous system as did the new level of responsibilities that were soon to be mine. As I walked the hallways, I didn’t feel a magical transition from teacher to administrator, but I was taken aback by the structure of this immense school. I imagined children laughing, student-work on walls, and even the aroma of school lunch in the cafeteria. Right away, I met a few hardworking teachers that greeted me kindly as they began to pack away their rooms for the summer, looking forward to the next two, or so, months of vacation. After I told them that I was going to be the new A.P., they felt the need to clue me in to the behavioral challenges at this school. They ended with the positive, “But, you’ll do great.” However, I started to wonder, “What WAS I in for?” And then the golden question hit me. “Who was Loren Miller?”
It seemed as if summer sped faster than normal from that day on and all of a sudden, it was the first day of school. I began to feel excitement all over again, but I still had not researched information on Loren Miller. I felt a mild sense of personal responsibility to do this before the first day of school as if I had made some strange internal dare. So I looked him up on the internet and got a basic working knowledge of the man that fought for years against civil injustice and housing covenants alongside his wife, Juanita, a prominent social worker. But then I asked myself, “Do the students even know who he was?” One of my main duties was to organize Tuesday morning assemblies. So, I shared my internal dare with the students. I asked them to research as much information as they could about Loren Miller. For each bit of information, I would reward them with a pink “Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible” ticket. This was the positive reinforcement plan already in place at the school and what I was accustomed to at my other schools. I even went as far as to challenge classrooms to decorate their doors with any information about Loren Miller. A week later, the next assembly had arrived and I asked if anyone had any information on our namesake. No one came forward. I swallowed, and for a split second, I felt my first attempt at inspiring the students as an administrator had failed, until Ruben, a 4th grade student raised his hand. I called him forward, and I handed him the microphone. He said, “Loren Miller was a judge.” At that moment, that was all I needed to make me feel that someone took my dare. I gave Ruben a pink ticket, praised, his efforts, and I dismissed the classes. The next day, I saw Ruben again and he approached me saying, “I know something else about Loren Miller. He was a lawyer.” I cheerfully confirmed his new revelation and gave him another pink ticket. Ruben was obviously determined to impress me because every day that week, he had new information about Loren Miller. I figured out that he had gotten wind of the fact that by holding out information he could get a new pink ticket. I did not care and gladly over-flooded his bucket with praise and his pockets with pink tickets every single time. Loren Miller, an African-American judge, was born on January 20, 1903 and was appointed to the Superior Court Justice, County of Los Angeles. Until he passed away in 1967, he had many aspirations and dealings beyond law, such as civil rights, journalism, film, and poetry with his friend Langston Hughes. As a lawyer, Miller specialized in housing discrimination. Interestingly enough, though much of his work supported the African-American community, he also advocated for Mexicans and Japanese-Americans that were victims of discriminatory housing covenants.
They say that to survive in Los Angeles, it is all about who you know. Students like Ruben, a student of Latin American descent, will never get a chance to meet Loren Miller, but I have a feeling that now he knows the beginnings of a man that fought for equality and justice for people of all races. Most students at Loren Miller Elementary, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, say they want to be a basketball player or a police officer. Some even stretch a little and mention the option of a nurse. Children that live in the surrounding communities tend to see themselves in a reflection of what is in front of them. At times, it is disheartening that their choices are so few. It is even more disheartening that children who do not see themselves fitting in any of the three occupations mentioned above, do not have a clue at all what they want to be. Of course, there are students like Ruben, inquisitive, entrepreneurial, and responsible. Hopefully, a seed has been planted and one day, a tree will sprout roots in their minds and the possibility of being a Superior Court Judge will become real. I could stop there, knowing that at least, as the saying goes, I got one. But I want more than just one.
I met Dr. Amina Hassan, the author of Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist (Race and Culture in the American West Series) at a book signing at the Huntington Library on
a whim. I was told that the Library was hosting a book signing about Loren Miller, so I marked my calendar. Little did I know that I was destined to be there. As I greeted the author, she beat me to the chase in saying that Calvin Bonds, a friend that I dragged along, who happens to be a leadership and team-building expert, had already told her that I was an administrator at the school. Before I could even ask, she readily agreed to be available for the school the next month in December. I could have gone home right then feeling accomplished because I had solidified a verified researcher to come to an elementary school to talk about Loren Miller. My first thought was that I couldn’t wait to return to school to tell the principal, Dr. Carolin Mckie. But unbeknownst to me, there was more to come that evening. Right before going into the presentation about the book, I met the Educational Director and support team of the Huntington Library. I expressed that I had never been to the Huntington before and that the cost of buses kept many of our students from taking field trips. They rallied in support of my efforts and offered to work with me in bringing students to the Huntington Library. And if it couldn’t get any better, I walked into the arena for the book talk, and the granddaughter of Loren Miller, Judge Robin Miller Sloan stood and introduced herself behind me. At that point I reached in my pocket to see if I had any old lottery tickets. I did not have any tickets, but after the book signing, I introduced myself to Judge Sloan and asked her if she would ever be interested in visiting our school. She happily said yes, and added that she would bring her brother, Michael Loren Miller, who was also a judge, as well as their spouses, who were lawyers. I can not exactly say how I made it home that night. In my head I was planning for Dr. Amina Hassan’s December 2nd visit with 4th grade students, December 3rd, I would have the judges speak on a panel to 5th and 6th grade students, and to round out the end of the week, 4th grade students would be able to go to the Huntington Library on December 4th. And it is all going to happen just as I planned. I am afraid of what to ask for next, so I might as well ask for the world. We need funding for arts programs, cutting-edge technology and training for teachers and students on how to use them, social and emotional support for our families that have been marginalized by powerlessness, a new source of discrimination, links to international education so that students see that the world is bigger than their playground, and finally, unity in fortifying the legacy that Loren Miller set forth. Thank you Loren Miller for inspiring Ruben who inspired me to learn more about you. You will never be forgotten.