For Armondo Collins, growing up in a predominantly-black neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota meant several things. It meant that he had to pass through majority white, wealthy communities whenever he wanted candy from the corner store. And it meant that he got stopped by the police a lot.
Collins did not realize that the over-policing of Black communities was something he should be offended by until he moved to North Carolina for college. He pursued English and African American studies to learn more about the experiences of other Black people and how they differed from his childhood. He read voraciously about Black history and systems of oppression, which he now incorporates into his own classes as a professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Collins also heads the Digital Media Commons at UNC Greensboro, where he designs programming to teach students about videography, podcasting, web design and other digital literacy skills. The protests in Minneapolis prompted Collins to take a trip to the Twin Cities, his first since the pandemic, to document and dig into the stories of communities on-the-ground.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Collins about his childhood in Minnesota, his education in North Carolina and his work to shape new narratives about Black communities and experiences.
Armondo Collins on experiences of over-policing in St. Paul, Minnesota:
There's crime going on, but I'm not the person doing it. I'm actually living through it. I'm a victim of it. If you look at it correctly, however, I'm being victimized a second time by the people who are supposed to be controlling the crime — or at least stopping it.
On going to an HBCU in North Carolina for College:
I was enthralled at being at an institution with all Black people, coming from Minnesota. This was a utopia of sorts. The school itself wasn't a perfect fit for me. However, the curriculum and seeing African Americans teaching it at the professor level changed my worldview.
On discovering the text “Stolen Legacy” that made him passionate about African American Studies:
“Stolen Legacy” is a book about the influence of African culture on Greco-Roman culture. The book is by George G. M. James. And essentially, what James does is look at Greco-Roman culture, philosophical culture, and traces it back to its Egyptian and Ethio-Egyptian roots. After reading it, I was so taken aback. I needed to know more, but I couldn't find other books on it. So I went to go find professors at my university who knew about it. No one in the English department could tell me more about the book or the topics. So they sent me to the history department. The history department sent me to the religion department, because they had a new professor who had a Ph.D. in the philosophy of religions. It was Dr. Matthew Johnson. He took me under his wing as a mentor and really exposed me to the breadth of African American scholarship on African Americans, especially at our religious root.
On the intersection between personal life and academic lectures:
What I learned during my first semester of teaching — and every semester since — is that the current contemporary African American Studies student doesn't want to know facts and histories on paper. They do, but they're very interested in how that relates to their particular world right now. And my classroom, every semester, was being overrun by what's going on in the news cycle. In particular: police violence against black people. It really hit home in about 2017 when my oldest sister Desiree was attacked by a police dog while she was taking her trash out in the morning. [The police] say to her: You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is the right place? Is there a list? Is there? Is it posted? I mean, do these rules apply to everyone?
On the importance of building multimedia skills in young people:
Narrative right now is more important than it has ever been. This is how human beings organize and approach the world. Students being able to have an articulate capacity for telling stories and creating narratives — in the digital space, in the contemporary moment — is a skill that's invaluable across the disciplines.