For four generations, the Collins family was trapped in urban poverty, depending upon welfare and living in one of the oldest and most dangerous public housing projects in America-Chicago's Henry Horner Homes. Yet, unlike tens of thousands in their situation, they found the community support structures-and internal spirit-to strengthen their family and transcend the economic and social conditions of their lives.
Filmed in an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual discovery between the Collins family and the filmmaker, Tod Lending, the 90-minute LEGACY documentary captures a family passing through dramatic and unexpected transitions over a five-year period. Through the powerful and dignified voices of women from three generations of the Collins family, LEGACY tells the inspiring story of how members of one family broke free of welfare, recovered from substance abuse and escaped the specter of violence in their community. Family members succeeded in education and job training, secured employment, moved to a safe neighborhood and gained self-respect.
Nickcole Collins Pierre, twenty-four years old, is the narrator of LEGACY. She draws viewers into the compelling story of her family, telling us: "It begins with a tragedy and ends with our lives changed in ways we could never imagine."
As she speaks, viewers see aerial views of Henry Horner, then its confining and decrepit hallways. Through photographs, Nickcole introduces us to her grandmother Dorothy Jackson, mother Alaissa and aunt Wanda. She tells us that Dorothy moved to Henry Horner 25 years ago and, as the neighborhood violence worsened, "Grandma watched out for all of us grandchildren." Seemingly speaking for all of us, Nickcole says, "We couldn't believe the violence would touch us."
In September, 1994, Dorothy is the first person interviewed by filmmaker Tod Lending. She talks about how difficult it is to live in public housing, but that she has no choice. When she first moved there, the building and neighborhood were safe for families. Now, "you can't go outside because there's always shooting going on." Prophetically, she expresses a wish that the housing project would be torn down.
Two hours after the initial interview with Dorothy, her grandson, 14-year-old Terrell Collins, was gunned down two blocks from his home. 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.
The street scene following Terrell's death is wrenching, showing the impact on family members. Clips of television news reports cover the killing and the family's grief. According to Nickcole, "Jack [Terrell's older brother, who was with him when he was killed] was in the worst shape of all." A short time later, in a group interview with the filmmaker, family members share their rawest emotions of pain and struggle. Dorothy is devastated: "A piece of my heart was gone. Gone. How can I fill the space in my heart?" Nickcole tells us that LEGACY offers the story behind the headlines. "What people never get to see is how pain changes a family over time."
The documentary follows the family through their grief and loss, tracing the legacy of Terrell's death as memory of him evolves from earth-shattering grief into a source of inspiration. Nickcole tells us: "Terrell left us with something good, something very powerful. He's shown us how precious life is. He's left us with a spirit to not just accept what we have, but to struggle for more. He has motivated us to believe in ourselves and make something of our lives."
LEGACY is told in five segments, representing the years of filmmaking as well as the progress of individual family members. The stories of Nickcole, Alaissa, Wanda, Dorothy and Jack connect with one another and to the unrealized presence of Terrell. Together, they represent some of the complex issues inherent in families in poverty, the working poor and distressed neighborhoods, and the devastating impact of these economic realities on people's lives. The stories call forth our compassion and understanding as a response to the expression of human needs.
The documentary ends with the celebration of Nickcole's marriage to Johnny Pierre. They will wait to have children until they finish school. Nickcole comments that the family's story always comes back to Terrell-that he showed them how precious life is and motivated them to believe in themselves. The older generation of Collins women overcame their sense of hopelessness and built a better future for themselves and their children. Over video clips of Terrell, Nickcole tells us: "Terrell is always with us and his LEGACY will live on. May he rest in peace."
LEGACY is a story about a family finding the strength and courage to transform their lives. No longer dependent on fate, but rather motivated by their own spirit of self-determination, they are able to utilize key support structures. LEGACY brings humanity to some of our nation's most pressing challenges, leaving viewers with a more realistic understanding of poverty, drugs and violence in urban America.