The timeline and cost for completing the Purple Line is up in the air after a judge ruled that contractors may quit in the middle of the project. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich weighs in on that, the latest coronavirus news and more.
In 2017, Second Lieutenant Richard Collins, a student at Bowie State University, was stabbed to death by Sean Urbanski, a white man, while visiting the University of Maryland.
Earlier this year, the Maryland legislature passed a bill in Collins’ name that expands the definition of a hate crime. Under “2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins, III’s Law” crimes that are “motivated either in whole or in part by another’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin, or because another person or group is homeless,” constitute a hate crime.
As protests against police brutality and racial inequality continue throughout the country, we sit down with the parents of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III to discuss their son’s legacy and their hopes that other Americans also convene conversations about racism.
Visit the 2nd Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III Foundation here.
Produced by Kayla Hewitt
- Rick Collins Father, 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins III
- Dawn Collins Mother, 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins III
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Three years ago newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, a young black man enrolled in Bowie State University was killed by a white man while on a visit to the University of Maryland campus. In the intervening years Richard's parents, Rick and Dawn Collins have worked to keep their son's legacy alive through the creation of a scholarship foundation in his name as well as advocating for the passing of a bill named in honor of their son, which expands the definition of a hate crime under Maryland law. Joining me now to discuss this is Dawn Collins, the mother of Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III. Dawn Collins, thank you for joining us.
DAWN COLLINSGood morning, Kojo, and thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us is Rick Collins. He is Richard Collins III's father. Rick Collins, thank you for joining us.
RICK COLLINSGood morning, Kojo.
NNAMDIRick Collins, can you recall for us what happened to your son on the morning in the wee hours of May 20, 2017?
COLLINSYes. The morning in question we were contacted later that morning by the Maryland State Police. Two State Troopers came and rang our doorbell and gave us the news that our son had been murdered. And we were to contact the University of Maryland campus police office for further details, and that's how our day began.
NNAMDICan you tell us what you eventually found out happened that morning?
COLLINSAfter arriving at the University of Maryland Police Department Headquarters, we spoke with the police chief and he explained to us that our son had been standing at a bus stop on the campus in front of Montgomery Hall with two friends talking to them when some white male -- strange white male walked up out of the shadows and was yelling something indecipherable to them. Came up and approached them all and told them to, "Step left if you know what's best for you." My son said, "No." And he stabbed him in his heart with a three inch knife.
NNAMDIYour son later died from his injuries at the hospital. Dawn Collins, tell us about your son. What kind of person did you raise him to be?
COLLINSHe loved all people, all races. It did not matter. And he was a man of service. We're third generation military. So therefore it was important to Richard to serve his country. So I'd like people to know that he was a patriot and a person of service.
NNAMDIRick Collins, when was the last time you got to see your son alive?
COLLINSThe last time we saw him alive was that Friday before. We had lunch together. He had been out celebrating the night before, but he came home that morning and we had lunch together as a family. And that was the last time we saw him. He went back out that evening to meet with friends and he was spending the night with friends. So that was the plan.
NNAMDIYour son was commissioned on May 18 on the campus of Bowie State University and it was after the celebration for that that you saw him for the last time. Although your son was commissioned by the military at the time of his death, Mr. Collins, you and your wife struggled to have the Army recognize his title. Rick Collins, why is that? And has he since been recognized?
COLLINSYes. That is accurate. The reason we were told at the time is that the way that Army policy was written that the actual commissioning ceremony was just that. It was ceremonial and his official date for being promoted to active duty status would take place once he arrived at his first command for training. We've since been able through the help of our state -- not state, but our congressman and state senators been able to get the Army to change that. And there's been a change in the Army policy going forward that would affect all cadets so that they will be automatically recognized as officially members of the Army in the future in a situation such as this.
NNAMDIDawn Collins, how long did that struggle take to have the Army recognize him?
COLLINSWell, it's been a three year struggle. Yes, they have recognized him, but as of yet they still have not given us any benefits associated with that. We're still struggling with that part of the story.
NNAMDIIt took three years for that to be accomplished. Why so long?
COLLINSPolicy. That's what we've been given. We've appealed to the -- all the way to the Secretary of Defense and what we've been given time and time again is, "This is Army policy."
NNAMDIRick Collins, you mentioned this, but exactly how have the military standard practices changed with regard to ROTC cadets who have been sworn in.
COLLINSA new policy covers ROTC cadets so that in the event of some catastrophe such as happened to our son they will be covered as full fledge members of military. That means they'll be eligible for all of the honors and benefits that are typically awarded to a service member who is killed or dies while on active duty. So that will provide them with a protection that wasn't afforded our son at the time.
NNAMDIWe're really grateful that you both have agreed to join us to discuss what became a very public story, but, which for you is a very private grief that you have been enduring for a long time. And we are particularly grateful, because of the time at which you're joining us at which time protests are going on around the country. It seems to be a moment of reckoning. So I'm going to put this question to both of you. First, you, Dawn Collins, when it comes to racial injustice what do you make of the protests happening right now and do you think we'll see real change?
COLLINSI pray and hope that we see real change, but the protest to me is symptomatic of a bigger problem. This ill of racism has been always a part of my life growing up through the years. So I do always have a hope. We are always taught to hope, and that's what I see for our future that we have to not be quiet. But know that A, we have to vote and we have to know and hear what is being said, and our voices have to be heard. We have to be a collective.
NNAMDISame question to you, Rick Collins.
COLLINSMy hope is that this will be more than just a moment, but it will actually be the path of this movement going forward from here on. So that there can be true racial healing. There will be true racial healing going forward. That's my hope.
NNAMDIDawn Collins, in 2018 the State of Maryland created a scholarship in the name of your son to support students in ROTC programs at historically black colleges and university, HBCUs. Tell us about that scholarship and what it means for your son's legacy.
COLLINSWell, it means everything to me that that scholarship will be bestowed upon students that attend HBCUs. Something that happened at my son's home going service -- of course, I was in no form or fashion able to have a coherent or an answer, but Senator Mike Miller walked by and he cried with me. And I begged him, "Don't let this be in vain." And he along with other delegates made sure that that scholarship was bestowed on us to us at the HBCU located in the State of Maryland. So we are thrilled with that.
NNAMDIRick Collins, you and your wife also created the Second Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III Foundation. What do you hope to accomplish with that?
COLLINSThat's correct. Our hopes and desires for our foundation is to use it as a vehicle to promote social justice and civic education throughout the nation. And a part of that is reaching out to all communities regardless of race to encourage participation in the civic and political processes. My wife mentioned, voting. That's key. Also making sure that people understand in order to vote you must register to vote.
COLLINSAnd also we're hoping to act as a platform to support students' educations. We have as my wife mentioned a scholarship currently out there with the -- that the State of Maryland approved for ROTC cadets. But we're also partnering with Bowie State University in a scholarship to be awarded to students interested in Social Justice and Civic Education. So those are some of the things that our foundation is looking to work on throughout the community and the nation.
NNAMDIYou can find a link to that foundation at our website, kojoshow.org. We're talking with Dawn Collins and Rick Collins. They are the parents of Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, who was stabbed to death in the campus of the University of Maryland by a white man in May of 2017. Dawn Collins, you both advocated for the Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III Law, which passed the Maryland legislature earlier this year. What effect does that law have and what impact do you hope it will have for other families?
COLLINSThe impact of the law is that no other family will have to feel the distress that we felt the day that judge threw out the hate crime, because in his opinion it did not meet the Maryland statute. And when that was done we partnered with State's Attorney Braveboy to lobby in Annapolis to have that law changed. So there wasn't such a high bar. So in any event of a family having to go through this process the bar won't be so high to have it called a hate crime.
NNAMDIAs I understand it, Rick Collins, at the time of your son's court case, the State's Attorney wanted to put up a charge for a hate crime. And as I recall the State's Attorney at that time was Angela Alsobrooks, who is now the County Executive. And you later partnered with a member of the General Assembly Aisha Braveboy, who was then in the General Assembly to get that law passed. And Aisha Braveboy is now the State's Attorney for Prince George's County. What was the nature of your relationship with those two elected officials, Rick Collins?
COLLINSThe relationship was purely, I guess, in the official capacity of both individuals, both the County Executive Alsobrooks and State's Attorney Braveboy, essentially trying to communicate our feelings concerning what had happened to our son.
NNAMDIWell, we're running out of time in this segment. We are going to take a short break and pick that up when we come back, but I was just glad to see that they had both obviously stepped up in that situation. Going to take a short break, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking about a surge in the sale of books about racism and about the black experience in America. Right now we're talking with Dawn and Rick Collins. They are the parents of Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, who was stabbed to death by a white man on the campus of the University of Maryland in May of 2017. Rick Collins, your father was also a member of the military as well as the victim of an untimely death. What was his story?
COLLINSYes. My father was murdered also by a white man in 1954 five months, before I was born or four months before I was born.
NNAMDIAnd that white man, it is my understanding was never charged in Tarboro, North Carolina.
NNAMDIHow have you kept the memory of your father alive within your family?
COLLINSWell, I've kept the memory alive simply by relating the stories that I heard as a boy, young man. Those were the only stories I have because I never met him. He was murdered when my mother was pregnant with me and I was born four months later.
NNAMDIThere are over 50 years separating the death of your father and the death of your son. Is there anything in your mind, Rick Collins, that differentiates the two murders?
COLLINSThe only differentiation for me is the fact that when my son was murdered he had the, I guess, good fortune if you can say that of having witnesses there and video cameras recording, you know, the crime. Whereas my father didn't have those advantages. Hence, why the murderer of my father was never prosecuted and never spent a day in jail.
NNAMDIHow have the tragedies that your family has endured affected your views of race in America today? This question for both of you. I'll start with you, Rick Collins.
COLLINSMy view of race in America is that there has been no change since race was created as an issue in this country when black Americans were brought here.
NNAMDIDawn Collins, same question to you.
COLLINSMy views of race in America is that there are segments of the populations like ourselves where we are taught to if you do certain things that you will be able to overcome the circumstances. But we've been shown time and time again that America has not lived up to that promise with us as being citizens of America especially black citizens of America.
NNAMDIHere is Troy in Arlington, Virginia. Troy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TROYMr. and Mrs. Collins, my sincere condolences. I was following the case closely as I am a retired Lieutenant Colonel second generation. And the sentencing for Sean Urbanski was supposed to occur, but the pandemic hit and it was suspended. And I was wanting to know if you could share any news on that aspect. Thank you.
COLLINSYes. The latest that we have, you're correct. It was suspended and we're still currently waiting to be notified by the courts, when it will be rescheduled.
NNAMDIAnd Troy, thank you very much for you call. Here is Janet in Washington D.C. Janet, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANETHi, Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Thank you so much for all of your work that you've done on scholarships and changing the law to benefit young people. I was wondering if you had any recommendations for places like the University of Maryland, which some feel were neglectful in addressing hate on their campus, on what you'd like to see happen in the future.
NNAMDIFirst, you, Dawn Collins.
COLLINSFirst of all, we have to acknowledge all universities that there is a problem with hate, and in acknowledging that we can then talk about it. And when we can talk about it then we can do something about it. But first and foremost must acknowledge that this is a problem and not sweep it under the rug.
COLLINSYes, our thoughts are we are hoping to engage, not only as my wife stated, with the University of Maryland, but through college campuses throughout because this problem is not just a local one. It's a national problem.
NNAMDIHere is Betty in Bethesda, Maryland. Betty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BETTYThank you, Kojo. I just want to offer my condolences to the Collins family. This is just beyond the most horrible thing I can imagine. And I just want to say I'm the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. So I thank the German community, German Republic has done something to come to grips with the horrors of that genocide. It will not be until the American public in total comes to grips with both Native American genocide and the forced enslavement and genocide of the African Americans that they brought over at the beginning of this. That until that happens there will not be peace.
BETTYAnd I'm hoping in some way that this current unrest and protests brings us to the brink of that realization and I don't want to say civil war again. But at some degree this has got to be the pivotal moment to change. Getting rid of confederate statues, doing all of that and then the work that the Collins family is doing to inform and educate the college community, which is open to change is just magnificent. So thank you for all those efforts. And that's all I have to say. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIBetty, thank you for your call and the expression of your sentiments. Dawn Collins, you first. What steps do you think Americans have to take in order to reckon with the long history of racism? The issue Betty has been talking about.
COLLINSAs I first said, Kojo, I believe sincerely that it has to be acknowledged that there is a problem. And if you don't acknowledge the problem, you can't fix it or even come to grips with it. So as Betty first stated we must all Americans come to grips with that there is an issue with race in the United States of America.
NNAMDISame question to you, Rick Collins.
COLLINSI believe that it's going to require some introspection of all Americans to really give an honest assessment of what is driving your motivations for viewing people in that particular way. Until that self-reflection is done on an individual basis it's going to be difficult as a nation for us to heal from the problem of racism.
NNAMDIRick Collins, protests across the country against racial injustice are still ongoing. What would racial justice in American look like for you?
COLLINSFor me, it would look like something where everyone can expect fair treatment no matter what your race or creed or religion is. You should be able to expect that and that should be the first thing that people look at you as. You shouldn't be judged based on things that people will say are stereotypes, but understanding the character of the individual. And I think the best way, the only way that we're going to accomplish that is by not prejudging people when we see them.
NNAMDIDawn Collins, what would racial justice in America look like for you?
COLLINSI'm going to piggyback on what my husband is saying. Getting rid of the notions of prejudging and going back to something that Dr. King was saying the knowing the character of the individual. The person that murdered my son did not know that he was a military officer. He did not know what he had attained in the military. He did not know that he was a paratrooper. All, in my opinion, he saw was the color of his skin, so the prejudgment of an individual that we have to have a psyche and understand that that is not the essence of that person, because they have melanin in their skin.
NNAMDIRick Collins, the murderer did not know that your son was a military officer or could not know that military involvement has been in your family for generations. So what do you hope will be the legacy of your son?
COLLINSI hope his legacy will be that we are Americans. While we all have our differences as to how we came to this land, once we were in this land and we became citizens we are American. And there is no hierarchy or tier system. You know we don't have a cast system. We're all Americans fully and that is the message that I would like to send.
NNAMDIRick Collins is the father of Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III. Rick Collins, thank you so much for joining us.
COLLINSThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIDawn Collins is the mother of Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III. Dawn Collins, thank you so much for joining us.
COLLINSThank you for having us, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd good luck as you continue your work on the legacy of your son. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be discussing a rise, a surge in the sale of books about racism and the history of racism in America. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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