By Lynn Schofer

Robert Kennedy said, “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” The Seaford community was abruptly stopped in its path when a young man who was born to lead was taken from this life by gun violence in the early hours on Aug. 8. Jeffrey Akins was only 28 years old, but in his moments on earth he touched more lives than many in a lifetime.  

Some of Jeff’s closest friends came together recently, and although the pain is fresh, they chose to talk about his life and how his death will now inspire them to carry on what he dedicated his life to do in the Seaford community. Jeff’s friends: Tynetta Washington, Jamil Moore, Julius Mullen, Jr., Juwan Mullen, Andre Allen, Jason Owens, La’Shyra Williams, Troy Purnell, and Jeffrey Benson shared Jeff’s personality, his passions, their pain, their joy, and their hope that this tragedy will allow all to gain wisdom for change in Seaford.

Jeff Akins’ legacy and impact will live forever through the lives of the many people he touched.

Words used to describe Akins include loyal, selfless, funny, and energetic. “No matter how the situation was for him, he always put others first,” Owens said of Akins’ character. “You can definitely tell he gets his heart from his mom (Lois Brown), she’ll kick you out of the house but she’ll be playing with you. She will always make sure you have something to eat. If you’re not feeling well she’ll make sure you lay down. She is like a mom to all of us.” 

“She treats us like we are Jeff’s brothers, the more we learn about her the more we learn about Jeff. I met Miss Lois at Family Dollar and I didn’t know Jeff was talking to her about me and she would give me a hug then when she backed up and I saw her face, I said this is Jeff’s mom,” Juwan Mullen added. “Jeff’s impact is forever, he had a relationship with everyone he knew and made me feel accountable and he would overwhelm me with ideas and basically tell me it has to be figured out.” 

Troy Purnell said, “I felt like a big brother to him. His vision was to have his own center where he could teach kids how to play ball. He’d rather be with kids and go play ball. He worked at jobs to make ends meet but he lived to be with the kids.”

Juwan Mullen said his friend knew how to accept everyone, “We all had the same friendship, but Jeff had a different connection with all of us. He didn’t judge you on anything.” 

Benson said the Gentleman’s Club exists because of Akins and his dedication. “Jeff was the seed that planted it. Jeff had already spoke to Troy and he called and reminded Troy, and he invited me to come in and talk to the students. It was off cuff and Jeff was a para for the ILC and it went so well, Jeff asked us to come back. Then from that it grew into a program and four years later we have an award winning program in three different counties,” said Benson.

“Gun violence has to stop,” Julius Mullen said. “It is a must, black on black crime definitely has to stop. It is ongoing every day I am just tired of seeing it on TV. I am frustrated and when it hits home I am like, something has to give. We are going to keep losing people like this and people are losing their lives.” 

Mullen’s brother, Juwan, added, “There are problems on both sides of the gun; some are misguided, some are in danger, misinformed, have no hope. They only know what they know, they see no other way. People they identify with are doing the same thing, and of course the other side; friends and family of those who are killed by gun violence and I think it is a priority.” 

“We have to continue to do what Jeff was doing, it is strength in numbers. Make it about who he is and what he did for people and that will branch out and more and more people will want to be part of it,” said Owens.

Troy Purnell said the community has suffered major losses. “Because we lost Jeff, how many people in the community are going to step up and help fill his shoes? A lot of kids are hurt. We lost a huge part of our community in less than two years, between Adair Williams and now Jeff. Adair was our football program and Jeff the basketball program and that is pretty much what most black kids do. We lose two black men and these young boys look up to these men. We watched Adair and Jeff work and we helped a little. We have to come together as a people and help the future of our people.” 

Benson spoke on how he can help, “You have two sides of the coin; boots on the ground and then the policy makers. You have the people in the community pushing the needle to the policy makers, this is what we need, and then they can move. People like the men and women in this group to say we are unapologetic, we are intentional, and we are trying to make things happen for our city and we are going to demand what we want to carry on the legacy to save lives through prevention and education.”

Jeff Akins dedicated his life to helping the youth of Seaford.

The group spoke of the impact on the community.

“I think about mental health and how traumatizing this is to the whole city,” said Moore. “The first thing we need to do is to genuinely check on everybody, ‘How are you, how are you feeling?’ A lot of kids are going to be hurt and this is going to stick with them. Death is so traumatizing so tell each other ‘I love you’. The positivity affects us and the change is remarkable. Positivity, love, and genuine care…we received it from our parents and we need to continue to do that to all the kids impacted by this. I want to come home more often and we have to do more. If we did not have a purpose before, we definitely have one now. If this doesn’t motivate you to do something positive I’m not sure what will. We need a positive outlook on our community because that is what he was doing, Jeff was good everywhere; touched so many. This is changing me.”

Tynetta Washington, who coaches, said to remember girls struggle too. “I like being in the school, I see them in the hallway and I talk to them and they respond to me. I like that we have a conversation and even though they had a bad day, there is another day. I like being involved with the kids. A lot of kids use sports and it is a safe zone to express what they have going on inside. They feel like they have a team and somebody they can talk to. You’re a coach but a listening ear.”

“Jeff did a lot in the community and there is still so much left to do and it is on us and the rest of community to continue it. We cannot let it die,” Owens added.

“Once you find your purpose you have to work because that is why we are here on earth is to fulfill it. We are not here to do nothing, we have a legitimate purpose. Live out your purpose and once your purpose is lived out you go to another place,” said Julius Mullen. “You have to apply pressure, but at the end of the day it is hard and you get tired. Get it from the muscle and go. Jeff was full of muscle and never worked out. He was a natural.”

The group also shared memories of Jeff.

“He had trouble telling people ‘no’,” Allen said, “He would be running late because he was doing something for somebody else. You couldn’t talk him out of it and his heart was just big. He had enough heart for everyone.” 

Troy Purnell added, “I knew if he did not show up for something it was a selfless reason. I knew he was doing something else that was important. You never could hold it against him. His attitude and his demeanor would not allow you to hold it against him. Jeff was doing Jeff and when he showed up he was there with you fully.” 

Juwan Mullen said his friend always left something behind.

“Jeff would always leave something wherever he was and would have to go back and get it,” he said.

Julius Mullen laughed as he spoke of Akins’ laid back demeanor. “I’d call and say ‘yo bro you on your way yet?’ and he’d say ‘ah no man I still gotta take a shower.’ Jeff would be on the couch in his shirt and boxers and I’m on my way for him.” 

Owens told the group, “I’d come over to hang out with Jeff and there would be a bunch of kids in the house and he would tell me that he’d rather have them be safe at the house than be out on the street.” 

The worst part about Akins’ death by violence is that it was something he worked so hard to stop. 

“People process things differently. My first reaction was to get them back and I think it is normal when you lose someone to violence. The biggest thing is to calm yourself down before you act. Is it really worth doing that?,” said Owens. “As a freshman and sophomore in high school I got a lot of negative feedback and made people judge before they knew me. I never had bad intentions but I knew I had to change my ways for what other people saw.” 

“Maturity is a huge thing and it is hard for teenagers to process things. That is why adult role models are so important. We had positive people and we kept each other straight,” Julius Mullen added.

The friends are now living in different locations, but their core will never change.

“Our support for each other was so important because whenever you begin to branch off and start to do something new you’re nervous and Jeff was the person who would encourage us to do it,” Owens said. “He would give suggestions to do something differently but definitely encourage us to do what we wanted to do. He was meticulous about everything. You couldn’t leave anything half done around him.” 

“You are all still a voice for the Seaford community,” Troy Purnell told the group.

“I knew Jeff as one of several young African American males who accepted the challenge to advocate for our youth, male and female. He was a mentor, coach, gave of his time, and committed his life to improving our community. Jeff’s life was not lived in vain. He made a huge impact,” Bernard Carr said in an email message. 

Jeff’s high school basketball coach Art Doakes wrote, “I admired his integrity as a young man, respected him as a player. His work ethic as an athlete was one to be emulated.”

Williams, who wore his #20 jersey her senior year, shared, “Jeff was definitely the male version of me, all around from our upbringing to sports, to the community, to kids. Jeff has always been selfless and put anyone before himself. It is a blessing to not just experience how he impacted my life, but to see how he’s impacted others makes my heart smile. I’ll forever cherish every moment we’ve spent together, the arguments, and the serious moments, playing basketball. Jeff now gives my life more purpose than ever before and when I am mentally stable enough, I will proceed with carrying on his legacy in the community with the kids. I’ve got him (Jeff’s son) forever.”

“I love him and want to see his legacy grow. It is good to talk about it, it is good to have a plan, but after that action talks,” said Troy Purnell, who shared that Jeff wanted a place for the kids. “Jeff was about what he wanted to do, and we all need to pull together and put up a place where the kids can go and play ball.”   

“You always have to have that up-front money, now we have that guardian angel over us and he is in a different power that can really dictate to us and help us get to this journey. I feel our visions and goals can be uplifted to him and he has our heart. He is telling us not to worry about him, I got you, just do you and rock out,” Julius Mullen added.