The Martin Luther King Communications Arts Center at Bowie State University was filled with community leaders, grieving soldiers and raw emotions on the night of May 22.
Seated in the auditorium were members of Congress, Maryland state senators and the Chief of the University of Maryland Police, who is investigating the death of Richard Collins, a Bowie student killed in College Park on May 20, allegedly because of the color of his skin.
A vigil was held for 2nd Lt. Richard Collins at Bowie State University on May 22. (Photo by Hamil Harris)
“No matter who it is we cannot have this in our state and I am glad to know if the FBI is looking into it,” Cummings told the AFRO. “He was a brilliant young man about to graduate from Bowie State and now he won’t.”
Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins received his commission on May 18 and on May 23 he would have received his Bachelor’s degree with other members of the Bowie State graduating class of 2017 at the University of Maryland — College Park. Instead, his father attended the commencement ceremony and walked across the stage for him.
“He was outstanding, no question about it. But here we are in pain and suffering because one so young was taken away so young,” Bowie State President Mickey L. Burnim told the gathering.
Burnim’s sentiments were widely shared. “Richard was an outstanding individual, he was an outstanding cadet, he was an outstanding leader on this campus,” said Army Lt Col. Joel Thomas as he reflected on Collins life.
As Thomas spoke, several political leaders, including Maryland State Sen.(s) C. Anthony Muse and Doug Peters and former Rep. Donna Edwards as well as former NAACP President Ben Jealous, attended the vigil.
“I am here to grieve with the Bowie State Community but also to celebrate the life of a young man who was willing to fight and die for his country because of a senseless act,” Rep. Anthony Brown told the AFRO. “I think we have to step up our game in Maryland. The tone in this country is toxic. It’s toxic in Washington and in many communities around Maryland.”
Students spoke about the death of Collins at an outdoor candle light vigil after the ceremony ended.
“It was important to have a memorial service because we just recently closed out our school year and many of us are scattered. Hopefully we can heal together.” Yasmeen Jordan, president of the Bowie Class of 2017, told the AFRO. “My biggest hope is that regardless of who you are, regardless of your ethnicity, administration will put a name to the injustice that we are feeling.”
According police accounts Sean Christopher Urbanski, who is White, approached Collins and told him to move, but Collins refused. Urbanski, a resident of Severn Park, was arrested and charged with first and second degree murder. He is presently being held in custody without bail.
“Richard was a student who was very determined,” Bowie State Assistant Vice President Shirelle Briscode told the AFRO. “Even in his last days he stood firm in what he believed in.”
As he left the campus Thomas said: “Richard Collins was outstanding because he put in the work to earn his 2nd Lt. Commission. This is the least that we could do for him.”
The fatal stabbing has left several wondering about the racial environment in the area.
But, according to University of Maryland — College Park (UMD) and Bowie students, who are both Black and White, racism isn’t as prevalent as the recent homicide suggests.
“I never really felt like there was a racial divide in our school,” Monica, a rising Black sophomore at UMD told the AFRO. “At least from my experience, it’s a great community here.” Monica, who declined to give her last name, said that she only felt a racial difference in class when her professors were trying to make points about race and class separation.
However, a few White students from UMD said they had heard of racial incidents, such as a noose that was found in a Frat House on campus around the beginning of May.
“I know that one incident that happened in one of the frat houses had something to do with racism, so it’s definitely popping up for sure,” Sarah Hirsch, a rising junior, who is White, told the AFRO. “But I don’t think that any of my friends have felt a lot of racial hate…”