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Matthew Miller

Matthew Miller; Founder and director, Kalamazoo Lyceum
Founder and director, Kalamazoo Lyceum

At the beginning of this year, Kalamazoo saw the resurgence of a tradition that had been dormant since the late 1800s: the lyceum.

The resurrected Kalamazoo Lyceum, initiated by 26-year-old Matthew Miller, focuses on common experiences shared by different people and viewed through contemporary lenses.

“Lyceum” is a Greek word meaning “hall for public lectures or discussions.” Lyceums were popular community events in the mid-1800s; Kalamazoo’s first lyceum was held in 1837.

Miller has convened two Kalamazoo Lyceum events this year. The first, in January, attracted more than 60 people and discussed how the media affects people’s thinking. In March, the lyceum focused on Kalamazoo’s culture and brought in just over 50 attendees. The next lyceum will be 2-4 p.m. May 20 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

“We just want everyone to feel like their voice matters and foster that sense of inclusion, no matter one’s background,” Miller says. “In the end, my hope is that every person who attends the lyceum finds community.

What is your role at the lyceum?

The business-card title would say I’m the founder and director and I run the logistics of the lyceum. With time, my hope is to be more of a collaborator with different voices, because it shouldn’t just be my voice that’s kind of shepherding these things.

How did you get where you are today?

I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2015. I went to the Citadel, a small military college in South Carolina, where I majored in biology. It was a good leadership incubator for me and an opportunity to serve a broader mission. I worked in the public-affairs advocacy space in South Carolina for a couple years and then went to work for a nonprofit in Dodge City, Kansas. I had this strong desire to come home and recommit myself to Michigan and came back about a year ago and started working in the housing department of Integrated Services of Kalamazoo to help folks find safe and sustainable housing. I had some spare time and carved out a little bit to build spaces for the community where we can fight back against this sense of polarization and isolation in our communities and bring people together. The lyceum came out of that.

Why is a biology major interested in something philosophical, like a lyceum?

The notion of my biology degree was some of my strong feeling of wanting to help protect our environment, become knowledgeable about the systems that we are impacting and how we relate to that. Coming out of college in 2019, I had that sense of service, which translated into working in the advocacy space. A lot of our work was advocating to people in positions of leadership to help preserve the environment or policies that would help do that. I helped people get elected who were very conscientious about our impact on the environment and the necessity to care for and preserve it.
The nonprofit I worked at in Kansas was helping young people find roles in public service, and young people are very focused on the environment. Now I’m doing things in the social-work space. So, while I’m not on the clinical side of it, I certainly understand how our biology is impacted by our environment. Whether that be our mental or physical health, environmental factors can impact that.

What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?

I have a few that will give the broader picture.

In South Carolina, I helped Spencer Wetmore get elected to the State House. She was a mother and lawyer down there, and we helped flip a district that for 10 years had been held by one political party, and she was elected by the hair of our chin. She’s been one of the strongest advocates for
vulnerable communities down there.

Another accomplishment was when I worked at Lead for America, in Kansas, which involved helping get over a hundred people into fellowships within their local communities all over America. These were mostly recent college graduates who wanted the opportunity to do something they wanted to do but didn’t necessarily have an obvious route to make it happen.

My job right now is really rewarding. I’m helping people find housing, get food stamps, IDs, basic things that we might take for granted. Every single day can offer either a challenge or inspiration to keep working.

It’s kind of hard to pick between those three, since they all had an impact at different phases of my life.

Who or what is your source of inspiration?

One source of inspiration is my parents. They are blue-collar people, especially my stepdad. He works with his hands every single day. I also look to my faith for what service can look like for people. Sometimes you feel like there’s no other way to live outside of just serving people. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s a blessing to be able to have done it in different capacities. And to be able to offer some of that to Michigan and Kalamazoo, the place that I owe so much to for helping raise me and give me a good perspective on life, I appreciate it.

For more information on the Kalamazoo Lyceum, visit facebook.com/kzoolyceum.

— Interview by Kalloli Bhatt, edited for length and clarity

Kalloli Bhatt

Kalloli is a Western Michigan University student majoring in journalism and a former Encore intern.

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Host, children’s mental health podcast, Pediatric Meltdown
General Manager, WMUK
Local Historian/Youth Services Associate, Portage District Library

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