The Documentary
The Collins Family
Viewer's Guide
Filmmaker Tod Lending
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Family Centeredness

Nickcole described the loving support and protection provided by her grandmother, Dorothy: "Grandma watched out for all the grandkids as the neighborhood became more dangerous."

This deep connection between family members is the basis of the elasticity within African American families. It is often understood as interdependence, as reflected by the statement, "I am because you are and since you are, therefore I am." The idea is that one's sense of personal identity is so deeply connected with one's family, that when one family member is in pain, others feel it. When one family member is joyous, others are pleased as well. The loss of Terrell embodied new hope for the family. It is as if each of them became instilled with a bit of Terrell's possibilities.

African American Family Roles, Rules & Responsibilities

The family's connectivity is reflected throughout the documentary. Nickcole begins her story by describing the relationships among her grandmother, aunt, mother and their children. Dorothy supports the family through her steadfast resolve to care for her grandchildren during periods when her daughters struggled. Nickcole also commented about how she "kept going back to the projects because [her] family was there."

Jack and Wanda

The family also demonstrates the seven principles in the Nguzo Saba, that reflect core values for African Americans, and serve to build and maintain family, community and culture. Unity is the first value and is seen in the Collins family's deep and enduring connection to one another. Self-determination is the second value and is seen in this family's dogged determination to work, find better living environments and become educated. Collective work and responsibility is the third value and is seen in the family's mutual assistance that they provide to one another. Cooperative economics is seen most through the mother and aunt sharing resources to provide for their collective children. We see purpose and creativity in each family member's desire to make a better way. Finally, faith is demonstrated in the family's recognition that although Terrell died, his death and their faith would lead to a better life for all of them.

In the documentary, few males were shown as impacting this family- Terrell, Jack, Kenny Butler, Johnny Pierre and Mike Byrnes. According to 1997 Department of Labor statistics, women head the households in approximately 47% of African American families.

Discussion Questions

Dorothy and Wanda
  • What do you think keeps this family together, given all of the obstacles they face?
  • Each member of the Collins family appears to have an expectation that they will eventually have a "better life." From where do you think those expectations come?
  • Nickcole expressed her need to work hard at school, the Boys & Girls Club, the frame shop. What value is associated with such a commitment?
  • Where do you suppose she learned those values?
  • Nickcole's mother said, at one point in the documentary, "I have to make a better way for me and my family." What kind of help does someone in her position need to accomplish her goals?
  • At several points, members of the family gather at Terrell's gravesite. While there, they celebrate his birthday, and several engage in conversation with him as if he can still talk with them. What cultural value might this behavior represent? How helpful do you think this is as the family adjusts to Terrell's death?
  • The film demonstrates the family's participation in two of Nickcole's rites of passage: her graduation from high school and her marriage. What impact might the family's participation have on the younger children? How does the family's participation in these activities create legacies for their young?
  • Discuss some of the reasons why African American men may be away from their families in the inner-city. What might youth development programs do to impact the issues of distant male figures?
  • How could youth service organizations help African American families reinforce these cultural values to strengthen the families' ability to "make a better way"?


  • The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, (404) 487-5700
  • Alliance for Children and Families, (800) 221-3726
  • Family Resource Coalition of America, (312) 338-0900
  • National Center on Fathers and Families, www.ncoff.gse.upenn.edu
  • National Parenting Association, (212) 362-7575
  • Association of Black Psychologists, (310) 568-9274
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