COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland (UMD) hosted a dedication ceremony today for the newly opened Lt. Richard Collins III Plaza, which honors the life and legacy of a Bowie State University student who was killed in an act of hate in 2017. Hundreds of university community members gathered alongside social justice activists, community leaders, government officials, family and friends of the Collins family to remember Lt. Collins and advance important discussions on social justice and equity for all.
“Our campus has a tradition of honoring civil rights heroes: Benjamin Banneker. Frederick Douglass. Harriett Tubman. Parren J. Mitchell.,” said University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines. “Today, along with the spaces, statues, halls and programs that bear their names, we are adding a new name that will spark the inspiration needed to fight for social justice: Lt. Richard W. Collins III. This is a name—a legacy—that will mean something to every person who sets foot on our campus.”
Richard and Dawn Collins said that their wish is for Collins Plaza to be a lasting symbolic place where the University of Maryland honors the spirit of their son and repudiates bigotry.
“His young life exemplified all that is good and hopeful in a world that too often dismisses the sanctity of human life itself,” Richard Collins said on behalf of his family. “It is my desire that we all take with us the spirit of adding daily to the stock of our moral courage.” Dawn Collins spoke directly to her son, adding, “I promised you that I would ensure that the world will know your name. This is only the beginning.”
To honor Collins’ memory, the University of Maryland partnered with Bowie State University in 2020 to form the BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance. Through the alliance, the two institutions are creating new opportunities to learn about and foster social justice. Faculty and staff with relevant research experience are working to integrate social justice principles and concepts on and between campuses. Rashawn Ray, UMD sociology professor and co-leader of the BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance, opened the event.
UMD has also created a scholarship in Collins’ name, with special consideration for ROTC students.
“Dedication of this plaza at the University of Maryland is truly a milestone moment honoring the legacy of our fallen Bowie State University Bulldog,” said BSU President Aminta H. Breaux. “We look forward to a similar dedication at BSU when a learning enclave featuring his image is unveiled as inspiration to students and ROTC cadets in our newest building under construction. Together our campuses press on, with leadership from our joint Social Justice Alliance, to combat hate, social injustice and violence.”
Advancing and advocating for social justice was a key theme throughout the event, emphasized in remarks by Nadia Aziz, senior program director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Melissa Miller, attorney with Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., P.A.; and Wes Moore, author, entrepreneur and veteran.
Additional distinguished speakers addressed extinguishing hate in all forms, including Meredith Weisel, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League; Melvina Ford, interim chief legal officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Susan Bro, co-founder, president and board chair of the Heather Heyer Foundation.
Dignitaries and leaders speaking at the event also included Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy; Yvette Bourcicot, acting assistant secretary of the Army; U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown; and U.S. Rep. and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Lt. Richard Collins III Plaza is located on a prominent site near Montgomery and Annapolis halls, overlooking the bus stop where he was killed, and it is designed to provide a sense of calm and reflection. The space is modern in design, incorporating materials that match the historic architecture of the campus core. The plaza includes two walls, one featuring a laser-engraved granite plaque honoring Collins, and a fountain at the base. The second wall sends a message of hope through a replica of the Unity Mural. UMD and Bowie State students, faculty and staff created the artwork together to visually illustrate peace, justice and unity and debuted it at The Clarice’s 2017 NextNOW Fest at UMD.
To honor Lt. Collins and to mark today’s occasion, esteemed speakers shared these moving words with attendees:
Meredith Weisel, Anti-Defamation League:
“Today we are here to remember that good is greater than evil. Love is stronger than hate. We must collectively say, ‘No fear’ and ‘No hate.’ Let us together stand strong for the values that Lt. Richard Collins III showed throughout his life.”
Nadia Aziz, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“(The Collins family) is a family of patriots…. This family doesn't just believe in the highest ideals of our country, they fight and for three generations have put their lives on the line for it.”
Damon Hewitt, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
“Today every person of conscience … must stand up and speak out. That includes college campuses. Memorials are not enough, but memorials can be a start to the broader work.”
Susan Bro, Co-founder, President and Board Chair of the Heather Heyer Foundation:
“How much more bloodshed does there need to be before we as individuals step up and say, ‘No more. I will not tolerate this on my watch’?”
Melissa Miller, Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., P.A.:
“The University of Maryland lives by the motto of being fearless, and Dawn and Rick truly are the personification of being fearless … You refused to allow hate to win.”
Melvina Ford, Southern Poverty Law Center:
“I am thankful that Bowie State University and the University of Maryland have joined together in this fight to develop the Social Justice Alliance to bring about social change. … As the mother of a young Black boy, I am so thankful to people like Dawn and Richard. The work you are continuing to do to make him safe in this world is so important to me and all of the other mothers who are in this space.”
Wes Moore, Author, Entrepreneur and Veteran:
“It's a beautiful dedication to a beautiful man, to a beautiful leader. It's a beautiful dedication but the reality is you all have not stopped there. … As he hoped for in life, the world is better because of him.”
Aisha Braveboy, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney:
“Hate is a choice and not just the choice of those generations long ago. Unfortunately, there are so many young people in the current generation that will define America, that are choosing hate. And as the state's attorney, I can tell you that will not be tolerated.”
Yvette Bourcicot, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army:
“Lt. Collins’ service was cut short by a senseless act of hatred and violence, but his patriotism and fidelity are immortalized. He stands as an example for this generation and the generations of young leaders to come of what military service is to this nation.”
Anthony Brown, U.S. Member of Congress:
“He was a brother in arms. He was part of our family. You don't become a member of that family unless you have integrity and candor, and in Richard’s case, are a servant leader.”
Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader
“That tragedy led to an extraordinary effort by two loving parents, an extraordinary effort that has turned that tragedy into an effort to elevate the conscience of America, the conscience of our community, the conscience of each of us. … This plaza is about returning hate with love.”