New Jersey Institute for Social Justice Statement on Passing of Melville “De” Miller
April 6, 2021
NEWARK – It is with great sadness, respect and appreciation that the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice acknowledges the recent death of Melville “De” Miller and expresses our deepest condolences to his family and all those who mourn his passing.
De’s life-long commitment to New Jersey’s most impoverished residents was seen in how he built and led Legal Services of New Jersey and its Poverty Research Institute. His enormous advocacy skills, always grounded in the lived experience of individuals and families who had the least and suffered the most, were combined with a keen understanding of the law – both what it was and what it should be. His legacy is reflected most profoundly in how he sought to make real and tangible our nation’s aspiration that everyone should have access to justice – not only those with the resources to obtain it.
We also wish to acknowledge De’s service and leadership as one of the Institute’s founding Board members – someone who dedicated substantial time (and his typical unvarnished judgment) to the building of our organization. Particularly in the Institute’s early years, De provided invaluable guidance and the equally invaluable expectation that we should pursue the highest standards in both our practice and ambitions. This was seen in his engagement in the Institute’s campaign (ultimately successful) to enact one of the nation’s leading anti-predatory lending laws, in the program that enabled more than 400 Newark high school graduates to gain careers in the building construction trades and in the New Jersey Reentry Roundtable that spearheaded the Institute’s ongoing fight to remake New Jersey’s criminal legal system.
“We are grateful for the passion and vision De contributed to the Institute’s founding. De’s spirit and legacy live on in the Institute’s work today and in our commitment to make New Jersey a more socially and racially just state for all of its residents,” said Ryan Haygood, President and CEO of the Institute. “We hope our work would make De proud.”
Douglas S. Eakeley, Chair of the Institute’s Board of Directors, said, "De Miller was a close friend and valued advisor. I served on his board for almost thirty years (nine as his board chair). He was a leader in the national Legal Services movement, and a constant source of support and inspiration during my tenure as board chair of the Legal Services Corporation. He was a true servant of justice."
John Farmer, an early Board member and long-time Board Chair, noted, “De was always available to provide sound advice to us, particularly as the Institute undertook advocacy on issues, such as the reentry of persons leaving jail and prisons, that had very little political traction when the Institute first started advocating around them in the early 2000’s. De’s work in gaining bipartisan support for the expansion of legal services to underserved communities has been a model to institutions like ours.”
Richard Roper, a founding Trustee of the Institute, added, “De's active participation as a NJISJ founding trustee gave legitimacy to the launch of the organization. His stature as one of New Jersey's leading social justice advocates gave credibility to the Institute and immediately established it as a serious undertaking.”
Ken Zimmerman, the Institute’s founding Executive Director, observed, “De’s keen intellect and judgment were key contributors to the decisions that helped the Institute chart its path, and strengthened our thinking and action. This was true when he saw eye-to-eye with an anticipated course of action and even more when he did not. It is telling that so much of what I recall about De was the deeply principled approach he took to all he engaged in – and was the source of admiration and respect for so many of us.”