Jayquon “Jay” Tillman was ahead of his time.
The Cleveland native was an 18-year-old junior-to-be at Eastern Michigan University, where he was studying Political Science. After graduation, he planned on becoming a history teacher and would then pay his way through law school. But those dreams were cut short when he was shot and killed at a house party near the Cleveland area May 6, 2017.
Tillman was a scholar at EMU and was heavily involved in the community in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. Delta Nu Chapter, the Kings of Color Student Organization, the Young Brother’s Leadership Council of the Washtenaw County chapter of My Brother’s Keeper, helping the homeless, and more. That prompted the Eastern Michigan University Foundation to start the Jayquon Tillman Memorial Scholarship to honor his life and service to the EMU community. The crowdfunding platform offers EMU donors, alumni, and fans an avenue to provide direct support to projects and activities that are most meaningful to them.
“The scholarship idea actually came about last year, maybe a month or so after he had passed,” said Benjamin Barnes, who is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. Delta Nu Chapter and liaison for the fraternity. “We set down with the university then and the timing wasn’t right. We revisited the conversation about three months ago and got the ball rolling. I felt this was necessary because I didn’t want him to be forgotten. I owed him that much.”
The endowed scholarship was established to serve EMU students from under-served communities, who have freshman or sophomore status and a 3.0 GPA, with financial assistance, but to also help students that could have identified with Tillman. The goal is to raise a minimum of $10,000 by June 30, 2018 at midnight to fully endow the fund. They have raised close to $4,000 so far and the scholarship is 100 percent tax deductible.
Tillman was accepted to over ten different colleges out of high school, including Howard University and the University of Michigan. He fell in love with EMU after going on a visit and felt the situation there was better for him financially and academically. Tillman’s family and friends described him as friendly and very giving. And since he loved the college he attended, there would be no better gift than to help other students be able to get an education there.
“I think the scholarship is a very awesome thing that the university and the fraternity decided to come together and do,” said LaToya Williams, Tillman’s mother. “I think it’s a really good idea to give back to other EMU students because that’s something that I could see him doing if he was in a position to do.”
“Jayquon would be excited about the opportunity and it would be a big thing to him. I’m grateful and humble for the opportunity as well and I’ve been doing a lot of fundraising on my end to support the scholarship in Michigan as well. And I’ll continue to support it and give back as long as they’ll have it at Eastern Michigan.”
Born in Mississippi, Tillman and his family moved to Ohio in the summer of 2001. He graduated from Cleveland’s John Hay Early College in 2015 at the age of 16. He attended an early college program there which allowed him to graduate high school in just three years. His mother started a scholarship program there called the Jayquon Tillman Memorial Scholarship and gave $1,000 in scholarship money to two seniors. To be eligible for the money, students had to attend John Hay, maintain a 3.5 GPA, plan to attend a two or four-year university or college, and write a 500-word essay on gun violence, explaining how it impacted their lives and how they felt about changing the gun laws.
“The response that I got back really amazed me and I was excited about it,” said Williams. “A lot of the kids there are in the early college program like Jay was, so they graduated in three years. Some of them didn’t really know him but some of them did remember him when they were coming in as a freshman and he was leaving as senior. He really had an impact and influence on the people that were around him and he got along with everyone there.”
If Tillman’s family and friends were able to celebrate his life under different circumstances, they would. His life was senselessly taken away from him and his murder has yet to be solved. And while losing him has not been easy for those who loved him, they will continue to fight for justice for him and spread his message of togetherness and education.
“I would want him to be remembered by the loving and caring person he was,” Williams said. “I want all the people that say they love him to flourish because he was always telling people to flourish and to keep succeeding. I want them to do something positive with their lives, make an impact on people around them, educate people more, and give back as well, just as Jay would do.”