On January 18th, I attended a funeral service for the father of a good college buddy. It is no surprise and no act of irony or coincidence that this celebration of life took place on the very day that we also celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Edwin “Mr. C.” Collins passed peacefully with his family by his side on January 11th. His eldest son Chris and I were good college friends in the early 1980s and have remained so through the years.
Having known Chris for so many years, and having met Mr. and Mrs. C. on so many occasions, I was well aware of just how amazing this couple was…or at least I thought I was aware. Mr. C., along with his wife of 53 years embraced and embodied education. Mr. C. was born and raised in Chester and graduated from Chester High School. He completed his undergraduate studies at Lincoln University in Chester County and Cheyney State College, where he also earned his master’s degree.
Mr. C. was the classic example of giving back. Chris spoke often of their work having piloted Swarthmore College’s year-round Upward Bound program, for more than 30 years. Mr. C. also taught African American studies at Swarthmore College, was vice principal of Douglas Junior High School, director of the Chester Upland School District summer science camps and was a social studies teacher at Showalter Junior High School in Chester. Like I said, his life WAS education.
I knew all of this simply through my relationship with Chris and from the pride and enthusiasm in which he often spoke of his family. But until yesterday, my comprehension of their greatness was really limited to what I had heard from others.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to witness greatness first hand as I sat in the service and saw the powerful result of the four way intersection between humanity, opportunity, dedication, and love. I sat amidst men and women of the cloth, doctors, lawyers, and a room full of standup good people. All of whom became who they are today because of the opportunities given to them by Mr. C. I sat in a room full of living and thriving examples of the passion that was Mr. Collins. I looked around the room and felt both fortunate and blessed to even be seated and a part of his celebration of life.
I realized too that Mr. C.’s character is the stuff that legends and legacies are made of. So, as much as he will be missed, there is no doubt in my mind that the legacy of Ed Collins will be carried on for generations to come. His spirit and his mission will continue to thrive through the countless people whose lives he has touched….and will continue to touch.
I, like many others, left that church in Chester yesterday wanting to do more, and wanting to be more.