August 2, 2002
At 76, Mary Powers Miller may be northeast Ohio's oldest AIDS activist. The former two-term city councilmember and retired kindergarten teacher is devoting the winter of her life to educating Ohioans about the disease that has killed nearly 7,400 residents since the early eighties.
AIDS has been Miller's focus for 16 years, since she attended a workshop sponsored by the Oberlin school system at Oberlin College. There, an Episcopal priest from Florida talked about a "buddy" program in which a volunteer ran errands and offered emotional support to a person infected with HIV/AIDS. In January 1987, after she became "buddy-certified" by what is now the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland, Miller was assigned to help people living with HIV/AIDS.
Although only 5-feet-4, Miller is a powerful presence. She chairs the HIV/AIDS Work Group of the Western Reserve, a branch of the United Church of Christ. The group, formed in 1991, keeps UCC districts informed about the disease. She also is speaker for the Lorain County AIDS Task Force and the Lorain County HIV/AIDS Ministry; organizes conferences, including the HIV/AIDS Work Group's workshop "Parents vs. HIV/AIDS"; and collects food and clothes for Proyecto Luz, an AIDS outreach program at the Spanish Church of the Nazarene on Cleveland's West Side.
Miller's efforts have been recognized by UCC leaders, who named her an "honored laywoman" for her work and volunteerism at their biennial synod last July in Kansas City, Mo. It isn't easy. Miller, a "maverick Republican," admits that her views -- she believes in sex education in schools, with educators telling students where condoms are available -- are unpopular with some people, including the nation's president. But that doesn't stop her from voicing them. "Teaching abstinence only [to teenagers] is an open invitation for the virus causing AIDS to invade the bodies of the young and restless. Once they're infected, it's too late," she warns. "[The government] is so afraid to talk about sex. It's part of who we are. God made us sexual people."