HARTFORD – Deacon Arthur Miller is an upstream kind of guy. That’s why he created a computer café program at the Catholic Charities’ Asylum Hill Family Center at 60 Gillett St., where a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Jan. 20.
"You know what I mean by ‘upstream,’ don’t you?" said Deacon Miller, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office for Black Catholic Ministries (OBCM), which administers the program. "There’s the old story of the missionaries who went to this village, and they wanted to help the people because there were a lot of deaths. They were struggling, pulling people who were dead out of this river. They built hospitals to help, but no one asked, ‘Why don’t we go upstream and see what’s causing it?’"
Followers of Christ are called to go upstream and prevent damage from happening, he said. The damage the computer café program seeks to prevent is the deprivation of people of color and other poor people of services like access to the Internet. That is why members of St. Mary Parish in Simsbury, where Deacon Miller works, joined with OBCM in providing 10 computers and monitors for the project.
The ribbon-cutting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day followed the ninth annual Mass honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at St. Joseph Cathedral, also sponsored by OBCM. "We hold [the Mass] there because when the mother church celebrates a Mass, the entire archdiocese celebrates it. And what better way for the entire archdiocese to celebrate the vision of Dr. King?" Deacon Miller said.
The computer café idea came to him about a year ago, after his office and the Office for Hispanic Evangelization donated a smart television and a laser printer to the Barbour Street branch of Hartford Public Library. He also wanted to donate computers to that library branch, but there was no room.
But someone from Catholic Charities heard about the idea and asked Deacon Miller if one of the family centers could benefit from it. Enter John Kimball, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Simsbury, who works at IBM and was able to purchase several computers at a discount. For about $2,500, the family center at Gillett Street was outfitted with 10 computers in November, Deacon Miller said.
A May 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau on "Computer and Internet Use in the United States" draws comparisons among Asian, Hispanic, black and non-Hispanic white users from 2000 to 2011. Non-Hispanic white usage led every year, closely followed by Asians. Usage by blacks and Hispanics trailed far behind. In 2011, household usage by non-Hispanic whites was 82.7 percent, while only 56.9 percent of blacks used computers and the Internet.
Deacon Miller believes disparities like these are the result of "unearned disadvantages" brought on by prejudice and a person’s environment. If opportunities are not provided, he said, people with unearned disadvantages will often choose an earned disadvantage, saying something like, ‘I’m just gonna sell drugs.’ Our job is to build a bridge leading people with unearned disadvantages to pursuing earned advantages," he said.
"You know that saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’? My job is to make him thirsty," he said.
Providing the computers is only part of the solution, he said. Members of the Knights of Peter Claver and others were at the ribbon-cutting to offer their services as mentors and tutors.
Other computer cafés are planned, he said. Already, eight computers have been acquired for a computer café at the North End Church of Christ on Albany Avenue, a site chosen because it is open evenings and weekends, Deacon Miller said.
In his homily at the Jan. 20 Mass, Deacon Miller said progress has been made since Dr. King’s urgent call for racial equality. "We still have a long way to go," Deacon Miller said. "Too many of God’s children have been walled in." He asked, "What difference does it make" if we observe Martin Luther King Day and do nothing to serve humanity? "Not any difference at all, if you do nothing," he said.