Down in Central Illinois a heartwarming, inspirational and infectious phenomena is taking place in honor of a young man who died tragically.

Michael Collins, a 22-year-old senior at Illinois State University, died on April 2 from injuries sustained when the car he was riding in was hit by an alleged drunk driver.  Collins, who was studying exercise science at ISU, also helped his father, Jim, in coaching the University High School baseball team.

The #MCstrong pay it forward tribute where people far and wide are doing random good deeds for strangers was inspired by the fact that Collins, by all accounts an unselfish individual in life, was also an unselfish individual in death. He was an organ donor, and it’s been reported that he helped save or improve the lives of over 200 people because of it.

Good deeds in Bloomington-Normal began, and then multiplied feverishly as the news went state-wide and then national. An Illinois High School Association press release went out to news media across Illinois and just last week a brief was published in Sports Illustrated.

Simple random acts of kindness are still spreading beyond Bloomington-Normal, drifting through the ether to distant cities, states, and countries such as Chicago, Arizona, Australia. It’s been reported that #MCstrong has appeared in at least 43 states and 15 countries. It’s an outpouring overwhelming in every regard.

Strangers buying lunches for strangers, leaving large tips for wait-staff, signing the bill and attaching the logo #MCstrong, Pay it Forward. Youth baseball equipment being purchased randomly for youth programs. Gift cards ending up anonymously on car window shields. A free tank of gas and on and on … all in honor of Michael Collins. 

Posting the good deeds or the good deeds of others on Facebook and Twitter has helped inspire others to go out and do something not just nice for someone, but to do something incredibly nice for someone they don’t know. They are helping others, but more importantly they are helping themselves heal from the pain of someone’s life being senselessly cut short.

If you ask me, such an act of honoring those we lose in death trumps that of prayers or flowers. This is the ultimate gift. It shows we care about humanity.

So often we get caught up in the rat race, lose perspective, and many times we’re pulled down by the undertow of cynicism. It’s refreshing to know that in the Midwest, in Central Illinois, in a city nestled between corn and bean fields, there’s a sense of hope that nothing—not the untimely death of a selfless young man—will bring a community to its knees. It will only make it rise up and be strong.

And it can happen anywhere. 


A portion of this column was originally published in the Normalite Newspaper in Normal, Illinois.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...