‘Social worker of the year’ John Miller Jr. makes difference in, out of the classroom

John Miller Jr.

Dr. John Miller Jr.’s students learn a little something about his personal history by the time his social work course ends.

To encourage students to remember, he has a habit of giving them a chance to earn quiz bonus points by naming his hometown.

For the record: Miller proudly hails from Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

“I always talk about the importance of where you’re from,” Miller said. “You never lose that part of your story.”

During the past 10 years, Miller has made the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and central Arkansas his home. His job is teaching students in the UA Little Rock Master and Bachelor of Social Work programs, and he also serves as the coordinator for the university’s faculty mentoring program.

On the campus and in the community, Miller’s focus is on improving the lives of the people around him.

“It’s been a good ride,” Miller said. “Little Rock has a way of grabbing hold of you.”

In recognition of the difference he’s making, the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers named him its 2017 Arkansas social worker of the year.

“It ultimately feels like a great, speechless moment that you get that shows somebody’s been watching the last 10 years of your work,” Miller said.

Miller was one of four people connected to UA Little Rock who were honored during the organization’s annual conference that concluded March 31 in Little Rock.

Others honored include:

  • Roger Powell, who was named the undergraduate student of the year
  • Gelleta Shavers, who was named the graduate student of the year
  • Dr. Catherine Crisp, who won the lifetime achievement award

An associate professor at UA Little Rock, Miller has been a practicing social worker since he arrived in 2007, donating time to the community. He volunteered an estimated 1,000 hours last year — the equivalent of 20 hours a week.

As part of that pro bono work, Miller led the 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock, focusing on education and mentoring initiatives to help underserved populations.

Since 2012, members of the organization have encouraged literacy by reading to second-graders at Romine Elementary School every Friday morning. In addition, the 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock created the 100 Academy, an eight-week mentoring program for males, ages 13 to 17.

Miller also collaborates with others at UA Little Rock to positively impact the state. He’s particularly pleased with the progress in Camden, Arkansas.

For the past five years, Miller partnered with the UA Little Rock Joel E. Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity as it worked with Camden’s Unity in the Community Group to encourage racial reconciliation.

“That thing’s been really blessed,” Miller said. “In a little small town in Arkansas, Camden, they’re doing it the right way.”

In three years, the community’s National Night Out celebration went from nonexistent to one of the largest in the state. The annual celebration promotes neighborhood camaraderie and police-community partnerships.

During that three-year period, more than 1,500 people came together to enjoy the company of their neighbors. The celebrations attracted people of a variety of races, religions, and professions, including police and firefighters, Miller said. This year, the group hopes to draw 700 people, its largest-ever gathering.

In honoring Miller as its social worker of the year, the National Association of Social Workers said, “Dr. Miller lives social work. He embodies the core social work values. … He lives the life of a mentor. He doesn’t just talk about mentoring, he shows it in everything he does from mentoring faculty, to mentoring young black men, to mentoring entire communities.”

Miller is thankful his position at the university affords him the opportunity to help the community inside and outside the classroom.

“It’s been a great 10 years here at UA Little Rock,” he said.

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