Marcus Miles was everywhere. One of the great community photographers of all time. It was almost impossible to keep up with the man. Centro Hispano Annual Banquet. Rhumba 4 Rainbow. 100 Black Men of Madison events. Mann Scholars Graduation. Madison’s Premiere Black Male Photo Shoot. One City Early Learning Center graduation. Sabrina Madison’s Black in Business photoshoot.
Our paths crossed regularly over the last decade. Me, as a community journalist and Marcus as a community photographer. We were with each other constantly. One thing I could always look forward to at a community event – for sure – was Marcus being there.
When Marcus died suddenly on Sept. 30 he left a whole community in shock. There were so many that he touched through his work, his photography, his activism, and his philanthropy.
Hedi Rudd, another one of our fantastic community photographers, was hit very hard by Marcus’s death. She has been working diligently collecting photos from the community from all of the lives Marcus touched and she is organizing something big and beautiful for “Marcus Miles: A Celebration of Life,” which will be held at the Madison Public Library, Saturday, Oct. 28, 1-4 p.m.
“I have been assembling photos for the tribute and it’s amazing how many people he touched whom I am sure considered him a real friend. For many of us who are photographers, we prefer to be behind that camera and that was not true for Marcus. He was right there with you,” Rudd says. “I will miss that about him and I know others will, too. It’s been hard not seeing him at the usual places and not seeing his work popping up online. It’s a real void. My way of dealing with it is to look at how I can help younger people get excited about photography so we can have more Marcuses in our future!”
Marcus was born in Chicago on Sept. 21, 1963, the son of George L. and Lillie R. Miles, and he lived in the Madison area since 1975. He worked for over 20 years for the State of Wisconsin and was extremely active in the Madison community tirelessly working to make it a better and brighter place.
In many ways, Marcus was an amazing man. But he was an even more amazing father. His children – Ethan, Camille, and Allison – were his everything to him and he loved and cherished them like crazy. I can’t even count the times that Marcus has sat with me telling me how much he loved his kids and how much he enjoyed being a father. He was so excited when he found out that I was going to be a father again. Marcus and I probably talked about fatherhood more than we talked about sports, politics, social justice, entertainment, etc.
It’s very important to note that Marcus loved his girlfriend/life partner/soul mate/best friend of five years – Rissel Sanderson – like crazy. The last time I hung out with Marcus, a week before his death, we were at Viva México Festival at Breese Stadium on Madison’s near east side. My wife Julie sat and talked with Marcus for a long time and she told me that Marcus went on and on about how much he loved Rissel and that she was his soulmate and how happy that she made him feel and how happy he was in his life at this point.
“Marcus was the most wonderful father and partner. His optimism was contagious,” Rissel told me. “His kindness was unparalleled. The beauty of his pictures reflects his love for his family, friends, and his community. RIP, mi amor.”
Two nights before Marcus passed, we were supposed to get together for “Pool Night,” one of Marcus’s inventions. Marcus was a social human being and he loved bringing people together and his “Pool Night” brought men together from all around the community. The group was predominantly Latino with a few black and white guys sprinkled in and they represented a diversity of jobs, non-profits, and community organizations in the city.
Marcus was our ringleader. Marcus was texting me non-stop on Thursday about how fun our monthly Pool Night was going to be and how we were going to do this and that. I told him that I couldn’t make this one because of having to be with my baby and he razzed me for a while and told me I was just afraid of getting my butt kicked in pool. Marcus’s razzing rang a little bit hollow because 1) Marcus was not a very good pool player and 2) nobody cared more about parenting, fatherhood, and being with their children than Marcus did. He knew how important it was.
I said, “Look, Marcus. Let’s just go grab happy hour next week. It will give us a chance to actually hang out and catch up versus the madness that is a large, loud group of dudes playing pool.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Marcus responded, using the brown thumbs-up emoji. “Enjoy the time with the fam.”
That’s the last time I spoke with Marcus. Two days later, he was gone forever.
At monthly Pool Night last night, we just talked about Marcus the whole night. We had a pool cue that we dedicated to him that we all wrote messages on. At some point, we just all stopped playing pool and we took turns talking about what an inspiration Marcus has been to each and every one of our lives. We did several salutes and had several moments for “Brother Marcus.”
“One of the amazing things about Marcus,” one of the pool players said, “is that he could seamlessly fit into so many diverse communities here in Madison – the Latino community, the black community, the white community, the non-profit community, the business community. It didn’t matter. Everybody loved that man. Everybody wanted to be around him.”
Marcus died so suddenly that I didn’t get a chance to tell him how much he inspired me and how much he inspired our community and how much I looked up to him. I didn’t get to tell him what an important person he had been in my life. How he helped to make me a better father, a better community member, and a better person.
Marcus’s tremendous spirit and love and energy and passion and compassion live on with all of us in this community and this we can all still feel and cherish. That old Irish proverb is on point with Brother Marcus.
Death leaves a heartache
No one can heal.
Love leaves a memory
No one can steal.
“Marcus Miles: A Celebration of Life,” will be held at the Madison Public Library, Saturday, Oct. 28, 1-4 p.m.