A year before before Menkie Woodard-Collins was fatally shot in the head on a Harlem street he was busted on a minor marijuana charge.
He could have easily become bitter after being arrested for an offense that now isn’t even against the law anymore.
But he made the most of the setback, using an offender outreach program to mentor young people in his neighborhood and learn valuable leadership skills.
“Menkie really had taken excellent steps at being self-sufficient and inspiring others,” said Gamal Willis, manager of court advocacy and outreach at Avenues for Justice, the intervention and advocacy organization Woodard-Collins, 24, was assigned to.
“The reason why he was with our program was very small, but he was not resentful.”
Woodard-Collins was fatally shot Sept. 13 after what cops described as an early-morning clash on the street about a mile from his home.
“This truly is a case of the wrong place at the wrong time,” Willis said. “He had his own place, which he had secured. He was working at the time.”
Police said an argument broke out shortly after midnight among a group of people outside the Savoy Park apartment complex on W. 139th St. near Malcolm X Blvd. and shots were fired, one of which struck Woodard-Collins in the head.
EMS rushed him to Harlem Hospital, where he later died.
It is not clear what sparked the argument or if Woodard-Collins was targeted, police sources said. No arrests have been made.
What is clear is that Woodard-Collins had touched a lot of lives. He was arrested last year for smoking a joint while walking down a Harlem street, according to Willis.
Such behavior would hardly warrant a nod from a police officer under a new law passed in April that allows adults to possess up to three ounces of marijuana — and light it up in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked.
But because of the timing of Woodard-Collins’ arrest, his road to redemption went through Avenues for Justice, and workers there said he embraced the detour.
“He was a good, gentle, smart and kind young man who impacted everyone around him,” said Weston Muench, 26, the organization’s communications and data specialist.
“He really had a lot of potential and I think it’s really important for people to know that victims of these violent crimes aren’t just a stat in a tough neighborhood.”
Brian Stanley, 41, a court advocate who steered Woodard-Collins toward Avenues for Justice, said he was stunned by the young man’s death.
“I just didn’t see that coming.” Stanley said. “He was a really intelligent guy, loved to debate. He was a person that, if he were known to the wider public, this would be a situation where so many people would feel a tremendous sense of loss.”
Woodard-Collins had dreams of opening his own restaurant and had recently completed a culinary course. Friends said banana pudding was his specialty.
Over the summer, Woodard-Collins participated in a youth film project. Students came in every day to shoot and edit videos and conduct interviews. Woodard- Collins’ film was about a game show and Willis fondly recalled how it had showcased his sense of humor.
“He hated to be in front of a camera but we had a film class for summer youth and he participated,” Willis said.
In addition to his participation at Avenues for Justice, Woodard-Collins had done some credits at Borough of Manhattan Community College and was preparing to return.
Willis said he was shocked when he heard about the shooting.
“Him being where he was that night, it could have happened to any of us and that’s what hurts,” Willis said. “We lost a good soul. And he was going to do big things.”