The following is a profile of a CEF donor/partner who was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about his life, his motivations, and his experience with CEF. We’re happy to introduce him to the CEF community and to thank him for his support, in all of its forms. We hope to continue to feature partners and donors in our newsletters to thank them and to help tell our story.
To create a musical harmony, the artist stacks pitches on top of each other to produce a chord — a simultaneous sound that is pleasing to the ear. As a result, harmony has come to be used as a descriptor of symbiosis, a relationship where elements work and exist well together, in many different forms.
CEF donor Jay Miller understands intimately the difficulty and beauty of harmony. A Duke graduate (‘80), Jay spent his undergraduate years as a “gopher,” or administrative helper, for famous jazz musician and Duke “artist-in-residence” Mary Lou Williams. Jay, a bass player entering college, happened into Williams’ “The Beginning of the Blues” class in his freshman year.
“I was so taken with that,” he remembers fondly, “I was totally into jazz.” Williams was Jay’s inspiration to start playing the saxophone, and, referencing the time spent working for Williams, he admits, “I was willing to do anything because I could sit in there [Williams’ office] and listen to her practice.”
Music, both playing it and selling instruments, turned into a profession for Jay upon graduation. He opened a small music shop off of Ninth Street in Durham, which he spun into a chain of very successful music stores that spanned North Carolina (“Winston-Salem to Wilmington”).
However, Jay noticed a dissonance in his early post-graduate years while he was playing music professionally, a sound was out of place in his life: “I developed a drug and alcohol addiction.” He explains, “I don’t mind talking about it because I think the stigma is really unfortunate around a lot of mental health issues and I would rather just talk about it and maybe it will help somebody.”
Fortunately, Jay sought help early, consulting a substance abuse counselor in Durham and starting to attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the age of twenty-five. He is quick to note, although he maintains sobriety, “I have not really moved past my addiction issues, they are with me every day — it’s something that has to be managed for life for most of us.”
Ever cognizant of the value of the help he received from Durham County, and grateful for his good fortune, Jay wants to give back, “That’s kind of formed my basis in mental health interest.” Helping others, he says, has the added benefit of keeping him “on track” in his daily effort to manage his addictions.
Jay has given back in a big way since selling his music business in 2002. He and his wife Ebeth Scott Sinclair — a visual artist herself (http://ebethscottsinclair.com/) — started the Shared Visions Foundation to help non-profits in Durham and Orange County, especially those that serve individuals with mental health issues.
Jay’s musical ability to listen for missing notes and fill that space, creating harmony, has equipped him well in the non-profit sphere. To him, creating harmony means offering essential business advice and financial counseling to non-profit organizations and leaders, “I feel like a lot of non-profits suffer from not paying attention to the business of the business, if that makes sense. And so my original idea is that was how I would help non-profits.”
A perfect match for CEF, Jay has already participated in Opportunity Classes and will be assisting with training our volunteers in financial coaching. We are so grateful for the gift of his time and energy, in addition to his generous financial contribution through the Shared Visions Foundation. We’re looking forward to continuing to make music together!