He is among 2021 Cohort of Converge Social Justice Leadership Academy
Baltimore— Almost 10 years ago Joel Miller was fresh out of prison, living in his car, showering at the gym, jobless and needed money, when approached by a friend to participate in a robbery. “(My friend I used to hang out with) said he had a robbery he wanted me to assist him with. It was kind of funny because I was in a bad situation,” Miller said. “I went through all my thought processes and after thinking about it I told him no. He did it, he got caught and he got 20 years for it.” His friend got caught on a Friday and the following Tuesday, Miller received a call from the Virginia Department of Corrections for a job opportunity.
“I always think that could have been me. When I say I can relate, I can relate,” Miller said. “I became the first person who was ever in Virginia as an inmate and came back as a state employee. They’re definitely more open to hiring more felons since me.” Miller went from living a reckless life to helping Baltimore youth make better decisions about their futures. He served six years in prison for armed robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
Today, Miller serves as the Youth Advocate Programs’ (YAP), Program Director of Baltimore’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS). YAP was awarded a grant by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) to provide GVRS, which seeks to help reduce violence, decrease recidivism, and strengthen police and community relations. “I was dibbling and dabbling in the streets, and I understand criminal logic and understand rationalizing,” Miller said about being relatable among young men and leading the GVRS program.
“I understand the mindset of a person who is going to commit a crime definitely helps. But most importantly, what definitely helps is that I made that change.” Miller first came to YAP in 2019 as assistant director/program coordinator of the Credible Messenger Program in Washington, D.C. YAP is a national nonprofit that provides services to young people and families as alternatives to youth incarceration and out-of-home placements. YAP is in 31 states and in the District of Columbia.
Most recently, Miller was one of 26 leaders selected to take part in the American Express 2021 Converge Social Justice Leadership Academy, which recognizes emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector. Participants will have access to training and support from the Center for Creative Leadership, a global provider of leadership development. Craig Jernigan, YAP’s Regional Director for Maryland and the District of Columbia, nominated Miller. “I nominated Joel to the Leadership Academy because he is a hard worker” Jernigan said. “I recognized something in him that I see in so many young men who excel and do great once provided with that push and opportunity to make a difference.”
In July Miller was promoted to his new position. However, the road to success wasn’t always easy for Miller who was born in Georgia and moved to the Virginia area when he was 13 years old. Miller served six years in the military before returning home and being sent to jail for another six years. “I enjoy helping people with shared life experiences,” Miller said. “It’s awesome to be able to be a position where I am meeting people who are in the position that I was in and be able to give them things that I didn’t have when I was in their position.”
Miller said it’s important to have people who can talk the talk and walk the walk. “People respond to people they can relate to,” Miller added. “That’s why I love YAP. I worked for a lot of nonprofits and organizations. YAP is one of the few places that has the services that they say they have. Everything they advertise that they have and the help that they say they can give, they actually have it and to me that’s rare.”