OU student involves herself in Jewish community, has big aspirations

By Sarah Wojcik

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Alyssa McMillan, a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in Judaic studies, is not sitting on the sidelines of what she believes in — she is getting involved in her community and making an impact on those in need.

McMillan works as an administrative assistant at the Jewish Community Relations Council and is an intern and on the board at Hillel of Metro Detroit, a Jewish student organization represented at six college campuses throughout the Metro Detroit Area.

“She’s the kind of person who can’t have a minute where she’s not working, so she offers to do all kinds of extra things,” Linda Foster, the literary coordinator of the JCRC, said. “She’s gotten very involved in black-Jewish relations because she can kind of see it from both ends.”

McMillan and her parents converted to Judaism in 2006 after growing up in Jewish neighborhoods, namely Oak Park.

“We really don’t know our true religion,” she said. “We felt, ‘Why not just pick something that we felt that we embraced?’ and that’s how we became Jewish.”

McMillan said the sense of community was her main draw to becoming Jewish.

“We — (the Jewish community) — help each other,” she said. “We have a kosher food bank that people are really unaware of, we have Jewish community services, where they provide social workers free of charge. They also have transportations for individuals who are low-income.”

Currently in the process of converting from Reform Judaism to Conservative Judaism, McMillan said that she prefers the more traditional approach the conservative services offer.

McMillan also sings in two choirs and volunteers with the homeless and the domestic peace corps, cementing her involvement in the community.

“I have a BlackBerry; I have a planner; I also have a calendar that hangs on the kitchen wall, and that’s how I keep track of everything,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do (if I didn’t have a way to stay organized.)”

Beginning at the end of this month, McMillan will also be competing in the Miss Michigan USA pageant.

She said she plans on taking it easy so she won’t have a mental block.

“I’m all about honesty and be who you are, because if you can’t be who you are, then you really have nothing,” she said. “Who you are determines everything and what you can do in life.”

Linda Foster confirmed McMillan’s character.

“She’s incredibly bright and very quick,” Foster said. “She’s got a great personality and a great person to be around … We hit the jackpot with Alyssa.”

Her upbringing and childhood have a lot to do with the woman McMillan has grown up to be.

Because she was born two and a half months early, weighing a mere two pounds 15 ounces, McMillan’s Hebrew name is “Bracha,” which means “blessing.”

“I am the only child,” she said. “My parents are like my best friends.”

McMillan said that she was conditioned into a strong young woman by many factors, including watching her mother battle multiple sclerosis to become a Journeyman electrician for  GM and dealing with bullying in middle school.

“I know what (bullying) feels like and I would never treat anybody like that,” she said. “I try to reach out to people regardless of who they are — it’s the right thing to do. It’s what makes the world go around.”

After she graduates from OU, McMillan has big plans.

“My main goal is that I want to open my own nonprofit sector for individuals that are low income,” she said. “I also want to open my own federation for African Americans and different Jewish minorities so they don’t have to rely on the government (which is cutting off services).”

She wants to attend the University of Michigan for a social work program and ultimately do clinical social work.

She also wants to start her own multicultural fashion magazine — similar to Glamour — with tips for different skin and hair types for women of all races.

Ultimately, McMillan is driven by a love of diversity.

“If we both cut ourselves, we’re gonna bleed red,” she said. “Only God is the true judge and nobody should be judging each other.”

To learn more about the JCRC or HMD, visit their websites at www.detroitjcrc.org and www.hillel-detroit.org,

respectively.