Growing up in and around the home of Leon and Jewell Collins was enlightening, educational and most of all inspiring.
The 100 Black Men of America have a saying “They will be what they see”. Growing up in Uncle Leon and Aunt Jewell’s home certainly instilled in all of us a deep sense of commitment to civil rights, community activism and civic duty.
Leon and Jewell were early members of civic organizations in the Brevard County, Florida area such as the Cocoa-Rockledge Civic League, Central Brevard Recreation Association, and the local NAACP. Those organizations fought for equal rights for African Americans in Brevard County. They fought for integration and secured community resources for projects such as the Joe Lee Smith Recreation Center and Community Swimming Pool. They fought for simple things such as paved roads, sidewalks and streetlights in the black community and they fought to be at the table when taxpayers dollars were being allocated.
Leon and Jewell led by example and they inspired others in the community to join the fight. For the Collins teenagers it wasn’t a choice, but rather it was mandatory that we participated in Marches, voter registration drives and political campaigns.
In the early 1970’s Leon ventured into politics and became the first black elected official in Cocoa, Florida where he served as City Councilman and Vice Mayor. Leon’s campaign and election inspired the whole community to get involved and the political machine that was established as a result of his campaign was arguably the most powerful political machine in the state and got many others elected to political office.
Leon and Jewell had a big dining room table and at the table sat political leaders in the community, the state, and the nation. At that table sat local leaders like Rudy Stone, Dick Blake, Dr. Joe Lee Smith, Rick Davis, Sylvester Donald and so many others and National Leaders such as Julian Bond and John Lewis.
Leon and Jewell were heavily involved in state and national campaigns of such names as Lawton Chiles, Bill Nelson, Bob Graham and Bill Clinton.
After Leon’s passing Aunt Jewell took the mantle and became the first African American female Councilperson and Vice Mayor for the City of Cocoa, Florida.
The Leon and Jewell Collins legacy is rich in history and still lives on in the lives of those they touched.
While we have not run for political office, we can feel their spirit when we’re out on the campaign trail for others or involved in civic organizations. I served as the Keeper of Records and Seal for the Omicron Omicron Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, Fraternity, Inc. I’m also, a current member of the Mary McLeod Bethune Cookman Alumni Association; and a member of the local NAACP; and member of the Volusia County African American Leadership Council. My oldest brother, Juan Collins serves as the Chairman of the Board of a Community Medical Center, Board Member of the Sickle Cell Foundation, Past Vice President of 100 Black Men of the Tallahassee, Florida, and a volunteer Attorney with the Tallahassee Veteran’s Clinic.
This legacy of community service has been passed down through the generations. Leon’s uncle, and our great uncle, Rev. Obie Collins was one of the first African American Chaplains to serve in the U.S. Army. He was also friends and a college roommate with the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.
“They will be what they see” We are so proud of the Legacy of Leon and Jewell Collins and the impact they’ve had on our lives.
Bobby Gordon & elder brother Juan R. Collins, Esquire
Visit The Leon and Jewel Collins Museum of African American History and Culture at the Harry T. Moore Center, 307 Blake Ave., Cocoa, Florida 32922