Emotions were running high when Celeste West and Brandon Phillips embraced that September evening. They didn’t know each other: this student embarking on his first year of college and this mother who’d lost her only son just a year ago. But it was clear that a bond was already there, forged by the impact that Franklin Barker West and his legacy had had on their lives.
A native of Alexandria, Va., Barker West was headed to a University of Virginia football game with his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers when he was killed in a car accident in September 2013. He was a sophomore at the College with plans to major in international business and minor in Asian studies.
“Coming to the College of Charleston certainly made an impact on Barker,” says his mother. “His heart was definitely in Charleston. He absolutely loved the College and the city.”
And if the outpouring of support from his fraternity brothers and other members of the campus community is any indication, the College absolutely loved him, too. Upon Barker’s death, his fraternity brothers raised money for buses to take students to Virginia for the funeral. When they raised more than $30,000 (the goal had been $4,000), they gave $12,000 to the Wounded Warriors Project in Barker’s name and used $16,000 to start the Franklin Barker West Memorial Scholarship Fund.
With an additional $79,000 in funds raised over the following months, the first Franklin Barker West Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Brandon Phillips last fall.
“We cannot think of a more meaningful way to honor our sweet Barker and to keep his memory alive than to have a scholarship in his name that will assist future students at the College in achieving their educational goals,” says Celeste West. “And I couldn’t have asked for a better choice for the inaugural recipient. Brandon reminds me so much of Barker, and he is so deserving of the scholarship.”
“I am proud to be fulfilling Barker’s legacy,” says Phillips, who met the West family when they came to campus for the Alumni Scholars Reception. “It was overwhelming for all of us – we were all just overcome with emotion. They told me that Barker would be proud and that they saw Barker in me. That meant so much, especially when I learned what an outgoing, involved guy he was. It was really good to connect with his family, and it encouraged me to get more involved.”
An Eagle Scout, Phillips arrived at the College with more than 300 hours of community service already under his belt – mostly from volunteering with kids at day camps and at a special needs school. At the College, the Honors College student began volunteering with an after-school program in North Charleston called Metanoia.
“Working with kids is a passion of mine,” he says. “It’s really neat to instill qualities and values in them that they didn’t know they had, to give them goals and ambitions.”
Phillips spends at least two hours a week at Metanoia working with Ezekiel, a sixth-grader whom he now considers his “really good friend. … Basically, I’m there to help him with his homework and just be a role model for him – show him that, you know, we’re not all that different, and he can go to college one day just like I did,” he says, adding that he hopes to continue working there for the next few years. “It makes me feel fulfilled. If you’re having a bad day, go out and volunteer. All that bad will go away.”
This summer, Phillips is also running and managing his own house-painting business in Summerville through the Student Painters program. He spent the past academic year writing a business plan and working on painting estimates, and launched the business in May – something he never imagined himself doing. And, frankly, he probably wouldn’t have the time for such an educational endeavor if it weren’t for the Barker West Scholarship.
“This scholarship relieves the financial burden of school so that I can concentrate on my studies and my community service work. It allows me to join clubs and really branch out and grow while I’m here,” he says. “It gives me a chance to bolster my résumé and work on my inner self and do things that will really make a difference in my future – like studying abroad. I want to go expand my horizons and really open up the world for myself.”
And, for that, he thanks not just the support of the Barker West Scholarship, but of the West family itself.
“They greeted me with such open arms, and it showed that I had a whole other support system backing me up,” says Phillips. “It means a lot to know people believe in me. It empowers me and makes me want to work harder to carry on Barker’s legacy.”
More than anything, Phillips says, “Now that I’m connected to his family, I just want to make them proud.”
This article was originally published in the summer 2015 issue of College of Charleston Magazine.