Individual members of the Collins family represent some of the complex issues inherent in families in poverty and distressed neighborhoods and their impact on people's lives.
Dorothy typifies the value of intergenerational parenting, mentoring and support. This is particularly important as it relates to fractured families. She found the support she needed to break the cycle of public housing and move to homeownership. In part, because of her faith, Dorothy's resiliency strengthened her resolve to believe in and support her family. Dorothy is the mother of Wanda and Alaissa, and the grandmother of Terrell, Nickcole and Jack. Her part-time work at St. Malachy Elementary School helped to make it possible for her grandchildren to be enrolled as students.
Living on the street from the age of 12, and a teen mother, Wanda (Terrell's and Jack' s mother) needed both treatment and advocates to help her address her substance abuse problem. She also relies on her connection to God, demonstrating faith in prayer. She established important benchmarks for success-graduation from the drug abuse program, securing a job, moving into her own home, and gaining her kids back-and achieved them. Miraculously, she was the first to leave welfare.
Alaissa (Nickcole's mother) demonstrates the need for various support systems to reduce the fear factor in leaving welfare to become successfully employed. Her behaviors illustrate some prime examples of self-defeatism, contradicting the stereotypical assessment of welfare mothers as lazy. The benefits of work and working go far beyond the money earned. The empowerment outcome enables individuals to develop a strong sense of self-worth, self-respect and self-reliance. Alaissa left school in the eleventh grade when she was pregnant with Nickcole. At the end of the film, she has taken the General Education Diploma (GED) test and is working toward her teaching certificate. She is employed as a kindergarten teacher at St. Malachy Elementary School.
Nickcole (Nikki) offers a strong example of an unwavering commitment to success. Her determination, and the support systems she engages, model what is needed for successful youth outcomes: access to a supportive school environment, youth employment and development through her work and participation in the Boys & Girls Club, access to higher education and the potential to develop a "world view" through her contacts with people of other races, religions, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. She also plays an important role in encouraging her mother to find employment and leave welfare. Nickcole is the first in her family to complete high school and enroll in college. At the end of the film, at age 21, she marries Johnny Pierre with the plan to finish school and embark on a career.
Terrell's death at age 14 is an example of the good dying young, and the need for significant and substantive change and improvement in creating viable neighborhoods. Nickcole tells us that the family was "so proud of who he was." Terrell, called "Bam" by the family, was a leader in the neighborhood, a straight-A student with a scholarship to a private high school. Everyone believed he had great promise, that he would "make it out" and become a successful adult. His dreams become actualized through other members of the family.
Violent death creates tremendous need for family grief counseling, in general, and for Jack, in particular. Terrell's older brother continues the cycle of addiction, a struggle for the family when he is out on the street. Jack was with Terrell when he was killed; and his inability to save him has caused an enormous burden of guilt. Always close to trouble while growing up, he has dropped out of high school, joined a gang and fathered two children. At 20, Jack understands the need for change and acknowledges that no one can help him unless he is ready to help himself. Jack could benefit from a positive role model, such as Kenny Butler, Nickcole's mentor at the Boys & Girls Club.