A group of about 20 people stood at the University of Maryland’s Montgomery Hall bus stop, huddled together against the frigid air and enveloped by a warm glow of light.
Grasping candlesticks as the clock ticked toward midnight, some looked at the ground. Others gazed solemnly at the memorial in front of them.
And then, as Dec. 11 turned into Dec. 12, they said in unison: “Happy birthday.”
2nd Lt. Richard Collins should have turned 26 on Thursday — but the Bowie State University student was fatally stabbed at that bus stop more than two years ago. This university’s NAACP chapter and Black Student Union organized Wednesday’s memorial.
“People from Bowie and at UMD of every color and ethnicity have all come together for this moment and unite under justice,” Misha Bucknor, president of the university’s Black Student Union, said to the crowd. “It warms my heart.”
[Read more: “A symbol of love”: Collins family supporters gather at trial with buttons and t-shirts]
On Wednesday morning, dozens congregated inside Prince George’s County Circuit Court for the first day of testimony in the murder trial for the former University of Maryland student charged with murder and a hate crime in Collins’ killing.
For many students, coming out to the bus stop hours later was a way of showing solidarity — not just for Collins, but for the students of color who are affected by what happened.
“People of color on this campus have not felt like their lives are important,” said Elonna Jones, president of the university’s NAACP chapter. “We need to be here to support each other — strength is in numbers, and we are really all that we have.”
But though many said they were excited by the turnout, some said they wished more students showed up.
“I understand that it’s finals, but this is only 10 minutes of your time,” said Erika Tarawallie, a junior public policy major and the secretary for the NAACP chapter. “It would’ve been nice for other students, especially non-black students, to come out and show solidarity … I just wish that people cared a little bit more.”
Another student, Price Fisher, said he was also surprised that there weren’t more people there of all races.
“I’m disappointed that I’m the only white student that showed up,” the junior government and politics major said. “It baffles me that few people seem to care … it makes me angry.”
The majority of the students also talked about what course of action students should be taking to make change. For Derrick Hinton, Bowie State’s NAACP chapter president — and a friend of the Collins family — that means showing support for the family in the courtroom on Monday.
[Read more: “Only the beginning”: Richard Collins’ family and friends are working to cement his legacy]
Bowie State University has provided a bus for students to go and show silent support for the family as the trial continues next week.
The trial has huge importance for the black community, and everyone must be there to support each other, Jones said.
“As much as I know whenever I walk past this bus stop, I’m filled with sadness, I’m filled with rage,” Bucknor said. “I want this to be a reminder that we need to find change, and change is gonna have to start with us because as much as administration says that they will be causing change, they don’t know what change looks like. We need to remind them.”
She encouraged students to try to make campus a safer environment for their peers in any way they can.
“I hope that starting with today,” she said, “we can all find ways to make change on this campus and in our lives and be a light to this world.”