Before dozens of people walked over to view a plaza at the University of Maryland, Richard Collins Jr. offered advice about moral courage.
“Moral courage is when you do what you think is right without [worrying] about what happens to you when you do it,” he said Monday. “Every time that you check a man for something that is wrong, you add to your stock of moral courage.”
Collins amplified those words about his son, 23-year-old Lt. Richard W. Collins III, who was fatally stabbed by a white former University of Maryland student while visiting friends on the campus on May 20, 2017. Collins died a few days before he was to graduate from nearby Bowie State University, Maryland’s oldest historically Black institution.
Family and friends joined school, federal, state and county officials to dedicate the plaza named after Collins on the College Park campus. The space showcases a picture of Collins, posthumously promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in the Army, a short poem titled “Forward with Hope” and a colorful unity mural.
The plaza sits near the bus stop, the site of the brutal attack, which was decorated Monday with flowers and a picture of Collins in uniform.
The plaza also spurs from the creation of a BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance to combat hate and other social ills and to bring students from both campuses together. It also collaborates with the Lt. Richard Collins III Foundation to establish a social justice curriculum, organize community events and conduct research projects.
“You will see a space that is designed to help all of us remember and reflect,” said Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor and team leader of the alliance at the University of Maryland.
The event came in the wake of a mass shooting Saturday in Buffalo, New York, in which authorities arrested and charged an 18-year-old white man with first-degree murder. The governor’s office announced it will provide resources for the city after 10 people died in the shooting at a city supermarket that authorities are categorizing as a “hate-filled” crime.
Some said racist attacks in Buffalo, Charlottesville, Virginia, and other jurisdictions nationwide will not end until community leaders make all spaces safe.
“It will not stop until we attack head-on the myths that this nation lives by,” said the Rev. William Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in northwest D.C. “We must stop congratulating ourselves and get about the work of truly building democracy, which has yet to take route even now. A plaza is not enough.”
Hanibal Gnahoui, who works at the Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School in Baltimore, didn’t know Collins. He said a member of the Chesapeake school’s board of directors, Alfred Berkeley, has conducted work with Collins’ parents.
“It just kind of solidifies my feelings on what we have to do as individuals in this country to make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen anymore,” Gnahoui said. “Whatever I need to do to help with the work to help fight [racism], I will keep doing.”
Valecia Maclin serves as a mentor to Richard and Dawn Collins’ daughter, Robyn, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in bioengineering a few years ago. Maclin connected to the family based on a close friendship with the same person who knows Dawn Collins.
“It is always difficult being a young person to go through that tragedy in such a hateful way. Then have to deal with the court proceedings,” she said. “For [Robyn] to still have the perseverance to complete her degree and start her own future is a testament to Rick and Dawn, particularly Robyn and the whole community that’s surrounding her.”
For more information about the alliance and Collins foundation, click here.