Part 3 of a 3-part series.
His name is Ricky Collins. He goes by his artistic name of "Starbound612." He's an artist, a businessman, a marketing executive, and a 26-year-old with global experience that is nothing short of phenomenal.
Al McFarlane: Are our children responsive to your message?
Ricky Collins: Yes. It shocks me every time I walk into a classroom. ... I went into an elementary classroom at Harvest Prep and kids are screaming, going crazy, falling out on the ground and crying.
I'm like, "What?" I'm not Chris Brown or somebody like that. What I'm doing is positive, and it really shows me that these kids are looking for somebody to ... they want to look up to something, and they will look up to whatever is in their faces. So, if we can put these type of role models in front of them, they will grasp it.
I'm 26, but I still kind of dress like them. I've got a certain type of way I carry myself that's like them. I make music that they like. So, they're really drawn to me. I appreciate it so much because of my brand. I need to be able to connect with the demographic, and I'm so glad for these kids, because they need a role model like me to really show them what's possible.
I promise you that I'm never going to stop, I'm never going to waver. I'm going to continue to grow and give to my community as much as I can no matter where I go, no matter how big I get. The bigger I get, the more money I get, the more resources I get, I'm bringing it back here. That's my word.
Al McFarlane: Joining me in the conversation with Ricky Collins, with Starbound612, is my friend and colleague Dr. Irma McClaurin. Dr. McClaurin is an award-winning columnist for Insight News and other publications as well. She's an activist anthropologist and consultant. Dr. McClaurin was Associate Vice President and founding Executive Director of the University of Minnesota's first Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). UROC re-purposed the failing Penn-Plymouth Shopping Center and, along with Minneapolis Urban League, was precursor to the development explosion going on right now at Penn & Penn intersection, the nominal heart of Minnesota’s Black community. She led UROC from 2007 to 2010, and from there moved on to become President of Shaw University from 2010 through 2011. She resides in Raleigh, North Carolina, and visits Twin Cities regularly for business and family affairs.
Irma, what do you think?
Irma McClaurin: I think that the level of intentionality is so important. We know that there is a strong connection between kids learning effectively and having someone who looks like them in the classroom as teachers. So, we can extend that metaphor to say, "Well, what if they can see positive models of artists and things of that." We always get the crazy artists. Everybody's looking at Kanye, and it's like, "Please. Really?" To have someone, and I love the name "Starbound612," to have someone who is saying, "I am Starbound. I know that there is greatness in me," is important.
My message is more for the parents. I've been a supporter of hip-hop. My son will be 39 in February, and I've been a supporter since he was in the sixth and seventh grade. People used to say, "You let your son do hip-hop?" and I was like, "Let's see. He's not on drugs. He's not a babydaddy. He has no criminal record," and the kind of music he was doing and the lyrics were about social consciousness, social justice. Yes, I'm going to support that.
I'm actually co-editor with Rachel Raimist, and Martha Diaz, who's one of the founders of the Hip-Hop Association, H2A, of a book called "Fresh, Bold and So Def: Women in Hip-Hop." We believe that most of what is viewed as hip-hop has been male-centric. What we want to do is focus on the contributions of women globally into hip-hop culture and music. Often women were behind the scenes doing a lot of the legwork while the men were out front being the show.
So, being able to show the kind of respect that you have for women, for the fact that even though they're young, it doesn't mean that kids don't think. Conversely, my message to parents is how do you support the Black Excellence clothing line. Why should we give Nike any more money?
Let's support that. And it has to be intentional. I remember the day that my daughter came home from school and I cornrowed her hair and kids were calling her Medusa. It was at that moment I thought, "I have to do something very intentional." So, I sent a message out to all my family saying, "No more white Barbies in this house." And every place I traveled, I brought her back a brown doll. I started subscribing to Essence and Ebony. The point was that we needed to have symbols that she could connect to, images that looked like her that she could connect to.
She has such a strong sense of self as an artist. She plays the kora, she paints. That moment was important to help shape that direction, and I would love to hear what you think your parents contributed to you being in this space.
Ricky Collins: But that's so important, because I always talk about people in our lives placing their fears on us because of their own failures. It's not because they don't like you or want you to fail. It's because they love you, but that's how they expressed it. They put their fears in front of you, "No, you can't ... You need to go to school and do this and do this and do this. You need to do things like this," because that's how they see you being successful.
My mom has always been supportive of my dreams, even though when I started I went through so many different things and levels of success, and then non-successes, hardships and bad decisions. My mom has been there through it all and supported me, letting me know that I can be whoever I want to be. That is a huge reason why I believe it so much.
There's a lot of hopelessness. Sitting and speaking with somebody, I can see in their eyes that they don't have hope. They look at it as like, "No, that's your life. That's cool that you're doing that. That's okay. But that could never be me." They've been stripped of hope so many times in their lives in different situations that they can't even see past it right now. I think that's one of the most sad things that I've been dealing with doing this, because I have so much belief and so much hope in each person that I speak to, and they don't feel the same way all the time.
It's up to parents and uncles, aunties, people in the community, to continue to put hope into our kids, because they need it. If they're not getting it from home they need to get it from somewhere. And they are getting it from home, they still need to continue to receive it and keep feeling that hope that no matter where you come from, no matter who you are, what family you were born into, that you can change the direction of your life if you believe in yourself and you have hope that there's more for you out there.
I really appreciate my mom from the beginning always giving me that confidence and that hope, because without it I probably would not be in the position that I am now.
Al McFarlane: Brother Ricky, Brother Starbound612, I want to thank your mom, and I want to thank your grandma and your grandma’s mom and the mom before that, and the one before that, and the one before that. And then I want to thank your father and his father and the father before that and the father before that, because I think if I keep saying that as far back as can be said, I will end up at the Creator, and in that I'm saying I thank the presence of the Creator in you.
Ricky Collins: Yes, sir.
Al McFarlane: That's who you are. That's who we are. And I think you're saying that that's what we have to recognize in each other, and we have to speak from that strength and that power, and that is how we change ourselves and change the world.
As an anthropologist reflecting on culture, Irma McClaurin, how do we draw down the legacy, the antiquity, of being in ways that empower our moment-by-moment existence with the sense that this moment is in effect timeless and eternal? This is the future right now.
Irma McClaurin: Well, I'm going to try and answer that with lines from something I wrote. It was a piece after the election:
"America, do not despair. We have seen the power of white space and white supremacist thinking before, and overcome them.
“America, do not despair. We are braver and more resilient today than in the past, and of one thing I am certain. The genie of the Black genius will not go back into the night, the bottle, the closet or the box.
“America, do not despair at the rising tide of elitism, incivility, racial, national and religious intolerance, and good old-fashioned racism and white supremacy thinking that has taken hold of our country at this political moment. We've endured worse, and still we rose.
“America, do not despair. We will right and write, as in writing, the wrongs currently being perpetrated in the name of conservative politics. We will endure the hyperbolic provocations, but we will not go quietly into the night.
“America, do not despair. We will lift every voice and challenge injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.
“America, do not despair. We will live true to the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores.’"
“America, do not despair, because when they call for Muslims to register, we will all appear, Jews, Gentiles, Baptists, Protestants, Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, atheists, and believers and nonbelievers, and sign our names in solidarity.
“America, do not despair."
Because this was my 2017 New Year's resolution. I resolve, and ask every person reading this to do the same, to be filled with hope and optimism, and the certainly that we will through the power of the people forge a better, civil and more inclusive America for all of us in the present and in the future. I hope.