College Park resident Kiersten Johnson’s 11-year-old daughter had always wanted to attend the University of Maryland and play on the basketball team — until she heard about the May 20 killingof Richard Collins III on the campus.
“When she heard about what happened to Lt. Collins, the look of fear and disappointment and uncertainty on her face — it was heartbreaking,” Johnson said of her daughter, who is mixed-race.
Johnson tried to reassure her daughter, she said.
“I told her, ‘People who do things like this, they don’t win. We stand up and we say what’s right,'” Johnson said.
Now, Johnson is trying to spread this message as part of the One College Park Coalition, a group Mayor Patrick Wojahn started last year to advocate for “inclusion of and connection among” the city’s diverse communities, according to its website.
“Basically our purpose is for us to build community around this idea of making College Park one inclusive place,” said coalition member Jackie Pearce Garrett, an alumna of this university and a resident of College Park.
Following the death of Collins, a 23-year-old black Bowie State University student, the coalition released a statement asking for city residents to be included in the actions this university is taking, such as the task force on hate bias incidents and campus safety created by university President Wallace Loh.
“We’re trying to reflect that there is such an important close relationship between the university and the city,” Pearce Garrett said. “While this did happen on campus, there was a lot of people not on campus who felt the impact of it.”
Pearce Garrett added that the city can “be part of the solution” to building an inclusive environment.
In the statement, the coalition also showed its support for students at this university, in particular ProtectUMD, a student group coalition that presented 64 demands to the university administration to protect and serve marginalized student populations, held several protests in the 2016-17 academic year pushing for a stronger response to hate on campus from the administration and demanded more students be involved in the task force on hate bias incidents.
“We agree that an action-oriented posture is required under the current circumstances, and therefore urge the Administration to not only listen to its students who have already posited what they need, but allow students to lead the University through this next phase of action,” the statement said.
“These students are the best equipped to identify what they need to make themselves feel safe and included on campus. I think that resonates across the coalition,” Pearce Garrett said.
The organization is also asking for art submissions centering on the idea of “One College Park,” to be made to into yard signs. Deadline for submissions is Aug. 10, and the winner will receive a $200 prize, according to the coalition’s website.
Johnson said these signs will act as a “beacon.”
“By putting those signs out there, you’re letting the community know what you stand for,” Johnson said.
The coalition has about 20 members currently, said co-chair Barbara Pando-Behnke, but it hopes to gain more.
“What I find hopeful is that the residents took it up,” said Pando-Behnke, a North College Park resident. “The residents are moving this forward now. I’m hopeful that we will continue and grow.”
Pando-Behnke said the coalition is still in a “forming state.” It held its first meeting in October, and it has been meeting about once a month since then, she added.
As part of this formation, members of the coalition conducted a survey of 40 College Park residents in February and March asking them about areas of concern and interest in the community.
From these surveys, the coalition identified several areas it will focus on, Pando-Behnke said, although these are subject to change as other issues come up. These areas include immigration, gentrification, public safety, interfaith dialogue and education partnerships with this university and other schools in College Park.
The coalition is planning an informative event on local immigration services for residents who are immigrants and other residents who want to support their neighbors on Sept. 20.
Responding to recent events, like Collins’ death, will help the coalition grow, Pearce Garrett said. Some coalition members also attended the public hearing on extending voting rights to non-citizens, Pearce Garrett added.
For Johnson, who heard about the coalition after Collins’ death, the work it does is important.
“I hope everyone in our community can feel the same way.”