Growing up in segregated Chattanooga, Tenn., Jihmye Collins had to ride a bus past three schools to get to one that taught African-Americans.
As an adult, he advocated for justice and unity while blending his passion for art and activism. A longtime member of the Baha’i Faith, Mr. Collins guided several local dialogues on race and racism and sought to share the importance of “the oneness of humanity,” said family and friends.
A poet and a painter with a keen interest in politics, he was a founding member of the African American Artists & Writers and San Diego Writers, Ink.
Mr. Collins died March 15 at Kaiser Hospital after suffering a stroke. He was 71.
A San Diego resident since 1969, he worked for Western Behavioral Sciences Institute for several years before devoting himself full-time to artistic pursuits. “He was the most multifaceted person that I knew,” said his wife, Susan. “He enjoyed everything he did and he loved his family.” In addition to painting and writing poems, he published essays, illustrated books and conducted workshops in art as an educational tool. His works include several public art projects in San Diego, including one at the Lillian Place housing development in the East Village area.
He was active with the Public Arts Advisory Council, County Commission on Human Relations, African American Artists Collective, Spanish Village Art Center and Combined Organization of Visual Arts.
“He grew up in Chattanooga during the Jim Crow days … people were being lynched around him,” Susan Collins said. “He grew up with a desire for justice, a desire for the recognition of all humanity. He became active in marches and writing letters to the editor … calling attention to injustice.”
Friend and fellow poet Jim Hornsby said their conversations usually centered on politics, art and basketball. “He was a warrior of peace, a bridge between cultures,” Hornsby said.
Mr. Collins enjoyed mentoring and working with kids, Hornsby said. “He was a strong poet and he painted his words. He was independent and a leader,” he said. “Some criticized him because his (political) poems were so long but there was so much to be outraged about … funding cuts for social programs, racism, sexism. He cared about people but he wouldn’t let anyone influence his work. He taught art and activism, how to be a citizen and raise your voice through your art.”
Friend Behnam Malek-Khosravi met Mr. Collins through the Baha’i Faith, where Mr. Collins was an elected member of the local spiritual assembly. “He was always cheerful and very engaged in helping young people,” Malek-Khosravi said. “He had a sharp, philosophical mind and he was a very loving guy with a really keen sense of justice.”
Jihmye Collins was born June 17, 1939, in Greenville, Ga., to Arthur and Velma Sims Collins. He was an infant when the family moved to Chattanooga. After spending two years in the U.S. Army, he moved to Indianapolis, where he was active in the civil rights movement. He attended Indiana University’s School of Art before moving to San Diego. He and his first wife, Betty, were married about eight years before divorcing. He married the former Susan Rice in 1982.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Collins is survived by three daughters, Gina Bascom of Tampa, Fla., Crystal of San Diego and Dorothy “Plume” Grimes of Chattanooga; a son, Marcus of Chattanooga; a stepson, Vince Jollett of San Diego; two brothers, Arthur Jr. of Kansas and Donnie of Nashville, Tenn.; five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Services have been held. A celebration of life will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at City Heights Library Performance Annex, 3795 Fairmount Ave., San Diego.