After a lifetime dedicated to equity in education, founder of The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools LaMar P. Miller passed away in his sleep on Oct. 18. A memorial service was held on Friday, Nov. 3 at the Unitarian Church of All Souls.
After coming to NYU in 1969 as an associate professor and serving as research director for the Institute of Afro-American Affairs, Miller founded The Metropolitan Center for Urban Education in May 1978, which has since been renamed. Miller’s goal was to track and aid with the progress of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1953 and make sure the promise of desegregation in public schools was fulfilled.
In the Metro Center’s early days, Miller worked heavily on desegregating schools, often advising concerned parents about what was at stake for their children entering a formerly white, middle-class school district. Miller also served as an expert witness in many desegregation court cases during that time.
Since then, the center has helped support and develop hundreds of school districts in New York, New Jersey, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, collectively serving thousands of students. The center’s work has expanded to incorporate students with disabilities through Miller’s Upward Bound program established in 1983 to prepare physically impaired high school students for college.
“LaMar looked at issues that were systemic in society in the context of public schools,” Metro Center Scholar in Residence Laruth Gray said. “He believed a democracy only works with a strong system of public schooling.”
Gray has worked at the Center for 25 of its 40 years. She started as deputy director of the center and worked closely with Miller.
“He was a gentle giant,” Gray said. “He was excellent administrator, calm in his approach but he expected expert work. He was a great storyteller and just a class act. How do you talk about someone like that?”
According to Gray, Miller started the center with a grant from the Technical Assistance Center of New York that totaled well over $15 million over a 10-year period. Today, it is one of NYU’s oldest and most heavily funded community-focused programs.
“He was able to execute the vision of marrying theory, research and practice,” Gray said. “Practice was what was important to him. What can we do that makes a difference in the lives of kids in classes?”
Marilyn Sommer, the former assistant director of the Upward Bound program, worked with Miller at the Metro Center as well.
“This program was part of the overall view he had of equity in education for all,” Sommer said. “It was his vision and his leadership. What is impressive is that this center has continued to grow and expand across the country. It is a result of his vision and persistence. This is the result of the seed he planted.
Although Sommer is currently retired, she still consults for College Prep Academy, an outgrowth of Upward Bound.
During his time as executive director of the center, Miller was also a professor of education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and a Steinhardt Distinguished Fellow.
“The greatest proportion of [Metro Center] staff works on the ground and in the field in public schools,” Gray said. “At one of the biggest research universities, he didn’t want to have a center of just theory or research.”
Among his former staff, Miller leaves behind a legacy of commitment to equity and education, something his successors have tried to emulate. Current Executive Director David Kirkland is working to expand the reach of Miller’s work to more public schools across the United States.
“Let our commitments celebrate his life,” Kirkland said in an email to Metro Center staff following Miller’s death. “Let the assembly of our congregation serve only to advance the education equity work he began almost 40 years ago. Moreover, as Metro Center commemorates 40 years of existence in service of educational liberation, let us remember Dr. Miller. Please honor him by connecting your individual efforts to those things that will always be bigger than any one of us: justice and opportunity, hope and healing.”
Miller is survived by his three children.
Email Sakshi Venkatraman at [email protected]