Statement of Rev. Isaac Miller

Rector of the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia


My name is Isaac Miller. I am pastor of the Church of the Advocate at 18th and Diamond Streets in North Philadelphia. I have lived in Philadelphia for the last 23 years. I have served at the Advocate for the last 20 years.

The Church of the Advocate has a long history of commitment to issues of Justice and Peace. It is where the first women in the Episcopal Church were ordained 35 years ago. The Advocate was also a center of activity in Philadelphia in the anti-apartheid movement, and was where the local membership of the African National Congress celebrated Nelson Mandela's release from 27 years of imprisonment.

I was at Colosimo's Gun Shop on January 14 of this year for three reasons. First, as a pastor I have taken part in 5 or 6 services for young people whose lives were taken in the gun violence that has plagued this city for too many years. I have seen too many young people in tears at the violent deaths of their friends and peers. I have seen too many families mourning the deaths siblings, fathers, too many mothers morning the death of their children.

I was at Colosimo's Gun Shop because of the death of one young man in particular. Gregory Jackson, whose grandmother and great grandmother were pillars of the Advocate. Gregory was killed at 57th and Arch Streets in West Philadelphia in January of last year. I knew Gregory as a youngster at the Advocate. I recall him at the age of about 10 years old in his Easter suit, with a short haircut, great dimples, and a kind of what-am-I-doing-so-dressed-up expression on his face, the memory of which almost causes me to chuckle even now, ten years later.

I was at Colosimo's on the day before Martin Luther King's 80th birthday, because, when I was Gregory's age when he was shot I was a part of the movement in the South that sought to change conditions that were patently wrong yet were accepted by so many as a given..."simply the way things are." I was at Colosimo's in an effort to witness to us all, young and old, but particularly to young people, that we and they can be part of changing things in this world that cry out to be change. It was in action as a teenager on behalf of something that approaches God's justice, that I first discovered the faith that has guided my life ever since. I was and always have been jealous that young people discover themselves and their part in the work to which God calls us today, not just 50 years ago.

I was at Colosimo's to urge Jim Colosimo to sign the Code of Conduct put together by the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. A group of us had met with Mr. Colosimo twice to present the Code to him, and after the first meeting it really did seem that he might sign.

I was at Colosimo's so that there might be fewer Gregory Jackson's killed at a young age. I was there because if we do not act to end the senseless reign of death, something dies within us all. If we do not act, we die to the moral call that is God's hope for us all and the whole of humanity.

This tradition, this legacy going back to the days when I was about Gregory's age, when work was done without which this nation would not have Barack Obama as this nation's first African American President. We have to keep this legacy alive for our children and our children alive for it.

I was also at Colosimo's on the day before Martin King's 80th birthday for a selfish reason. I was there to keep the right company. I was there in the right company of those with whom I was arrested. I was there in the right company of those here in the court room this afternoon. But I was at Colosimo's also to keep company with Paul Washington and Martin King, with Ella Baker, Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer. There is a phrase used in the Church, "You are surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses." I was at Colosimo's seeking the company of these witnesses and to invite others to join their cloud. It is this cloud of witnesses that is the hope for our children and this world.