Andrew Collins Jr. is out to leave a stain on your brain.
Raised by his mother and father in a then-quiet North Memphis neighborhood, Collins recalls church and music being of the utmost importance in his home. It seemed that the elements all were in place for him to turn out to be just as “normal” as any other kid.
Imagine the shock waves that zoomed through his family when the news hit that the police were looking for him. His mother, Willie M. Collins, remembers the tears.
“It hit like a rock hits the ground. We all cried so much. It was a very hard time because he was taught to do the right thing, even if I wasn’t watching,” she said.
“I will never forget his days in court. They were so painful. To know that he hadn’t done anything, but was guilty of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, was understandable. But to receive a 35 year sentence for it was unthinkable.”
Today, Willie Collins’ son, Andrew, is the founder and chief operator of Stain Your Brain, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, prison deterrent program that draws upon his hard-learned lessons.
|Andrew Collins Jr. (right) delivers his message of truth during a session with youth at Memphis Athletic Ministries. (Courtesy photo)|
“Bad decisions got me put away in prison and our youth need to know that they will get you sent away as well,” said Collins. “To the mentors of this city, you need to know that now is the time. Today is the day. And we are the change that we are waiting on. You have to do your part, just like I’m doing mine. I can’t do it alone and neither can you.”
So when he is not installing home alarms, Collins often can be found speaking to youth groups and to young people in Memphis City Schools (MCS). Ronald V. Pope, coordinator of the MCS Office of Gang Awareness & Truancy Prevention, has worked with Collins for the past four years.
“Mr. Collins has been committed in helping to decrease gang violence in Memphis City Schools. We greatly appreciate the time and effort he devotes to counseling, motivating and educating youth about the perils of criminal life,” said Pope.
“I have heard him speak on various occasions and he is a powerful and dynamic speaker. Mr. Collins is dependable, reliable and supportive of district initiatives and strategies to help children overcome negative influences.”
Stain Your Brain was developed to directly address youth issues while also providing opportunities for former inmates/ex-gang members to “give back” to the community by rendering thought-provoking and life-changing speeches, illustrations, presentations and workshops.
The truth of jail
“Our programs are presented in ‘raw and uncut’ language that youth understand, (No Profanity),” reads a Stain Your Brain (SYB) media release. “Further, research shows that youth are more likely to listen and respond to individuals who have ‘lived the life’ rather than traditional authority figures. SYB was designed to provide a ‘scared straight’ approach to literally stain the brain of youth with real stories and real consequences that changed the life of Andrew Collins.”
It’s an approach that worked on 17-year-old Jonathan.
“I had been locked up in Juvenile Court for having a knife in school. I was doing all the things that would someday land me in jail,” said Jonathan. “I was a hot head; I didn’t want to listen to nobody. I was picking up bad habits, putting my momma through a lot of bad things.”
Jonathan said he sensed that Collins was talking to him personally.
“He tells you the truth, real truth about what’s going on out here. It was a great experience to hear someone talk about the truth of jail. He took interest in me. He’s really like a big brother.
“I’ve become more of a humble person. I’m more focused on my dreams than this world. Getting young people to really understand what is really happening is important, and that’s what Mr. Collins is doing.”
‘My message of truth’
The year was 1990. A young Collins chose to take a ride in a car with a few guys a friend of his knew. What Collins thought would be an innocent stop degenerated into a scene that left one man dead and changed his life forever.
When the legal dust settled, Collins was tagged with a 35-year sentence for first-degree murder, especially aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. He spent 13 years, 5 months and 2 weeks thinking about his decision.
“The hardest part my lawyer had was convincing me that I did commit a crime,” said Collins. “I didn’t kill anyone and I didn’t rob or burglarize anything but that I was in the car with the people that did.”
In prison, Collins prayed many nights, asking God, “Why me? He didn’t answer immediately but over time he did and that was when I started making plans to create Stain Your Brain. I travel from school to school from youth group to youth group with my message of truth.
“Gangs, alcohol and crime are not what you want to be caught doing. These things lead you straight to prison. You even have to watch the company you keep because when trouble happens everyone involved will be held accountable for it. From the person who committed the crime to especially the ones who just so happen to be there,” said Collins.
“I don’t want kids to grow up just being there and getting in trouble. I have already been there and went there long enough for all of us. Now, I’m back and have birthed Stain Your Brain through my pain. We are confrontational and educational.”
(Andrew Collins can be reached at 901-264-0803.)