Kina Collins

Kina Collins is a gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform advocate. A native of the Austin community on Chicago’s west side. She began her activism during her time as a student of Chicago Public Schools, where she served as a Summer of Service Learning Ambassador and continued her mentoring efforts throughout her collegiate career. She attended Louisiana State University studying Sociology. During my time at LSU, she was inducted as a Ronald E. McNair Research scholar and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She would go on to be selected as a National Leadership Council regional organizer for gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform through Generation Progress, “Fight for a Future” network, representing the state of Louisiana.

As the Louisiana regional organizer, Kina was apart of the “Beyond the Gun” campaign, where she helped launch two national campaigns around the 2016 Presidential election. The Millennial Real Talk campaign, a social media campaign highlighting the voices of millennials during the final presidential debate.

While also serving as a coordinator for Rally for Humanity, a national convening of millennial activist, that took place in Washington, D.C. during the 2016 Presidential inauguration. Currently, she serves as the CEO and founder of the Chicago Neighborhood Alliance, a coalition building organization centered on empowering activists and organizers around the reduction of gun violence in the City of Chicago. She was selected as Galvanize Program scholarship recipient for the United State of Women conference, an initiative established by former First Lady Michelle Obama. Kina also participated as a panelist for the national Youth Organizing Summit in Washington, D.C. and during a community conversation hosted by the Live Free campaign for 2017 NBA All-Star weekend.

Read our full interview with Kina Collins as she unravels her passion and inspiration as a woman and as an advocate of gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. Take it away Kina!

1. You are a strong advocate of gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. Can you tell us why you chose this field?

As someone who grew up in the Austin community-one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago- I have survived the horrors of gun violence. Instead of being a victim of my circumstances I wanted to be a victor! I truly believe that gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform is my generation’s civil rights issues that we should focus on and tackle. I utilize my platform as a gun violence prevention advocate to make space for those most impacted, such as, communities of color, women and children. I find it extremely important to center these issues and conversations around these groups because we are still underrepresented and not supported. Gun violence is near and dear to my heart.

2. Can you give us insights on how to reduce gun violence?

There are several ways you can combat gun violence. My organization Chicago Neighborhood Alliance focuses on a few. As a gun violence prevention advocate it’s not about taking people’s guns away or coming into communities and telling people what they need to do. It’s about educating communities on their options and allowing them to come up with their own solutions. My organization works on the root causes of gun violence. One of those areas is civic engagement. Civic engagement puts the power back into the hands of community stakeholders and community members.

I teach young activist that it’s important to know what and who you are voting for up and down the ballot but it’s also equally important to understand that they can be on the ballot. Having an authentic voice and representation of your community changes the way laws are written, resources are allocated, etc. I believe that putting the power back into the hands of people and communities and allowing them to take control of their narrative is the ultimate way to eradicate gun violence.

3. Do you think the sale and possession of gun silencers should remain illegal?

I absolutely believe that gun silencers should remain illegal. Gun silencers are extremely dangerous in my opinion, especially for law enforcement. When there is an active shooter, the flash from the gun and the sound is what gives law enforcement the clues they need to catch the shooter quickly. Law enforcement is able to hear how far away or how close shooters are and also the capacity of the gun a shooter is using. If the gun has a silencer on it, this makes it significantly harder for law enforcement to pinpoint proximity to an active shooter and it also makes it harder for potential witnesses to describe in which direction someone is shooting- essentially this creates blind spots.

Although silencers are rarely recovered at crime scenes, I believe by making these accessories for guns legal it opens the door for criminals to use that as an opportunity to get away with a lot more shootings more efficiently. This is truly a matter of public safety for both civilians and law enforcement in my opinion.

4. Do you think identity crisis and discrimination are the reasons why America has a high rate of gun violence?

I believe that the main reason we have a gun violence crisis in America is because congress and lawmakers refuse to stand up to the NRA and have made the opportunity to get your hands on guns so easy.

With that being said as a person of color and someone who has lived in an underserved community I would be remiss if I did not mention that Black and Brown people (youth in particular) are victims of police violence and brutality at disproportionate rates to other groups in our country. As an advocate for gun violence I cannot ignore the excessive use of gun violence used on Black and Brown communities by police. Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley- Jones- to name a few- should all be here. This continued silence of excessive use of guns on Black and Brown people is one of the long standing points of contention in the gun violence prevention movement. Discrimination and police brutality most certainly plays a role in gun violence.

5. Tell us about the Generation Progress “Fight for a Future.”

Generation Progress is an organization that brings youth and young adults together from across the country to combat issues in gun violence and criminal justice reform. GP was formed out of Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. In 2016-2017 I was selected as a member of the National Leadership Council and represented the great state of Louisiana as the regional organizer for gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. During my time as the Louisiana regional organizer I worked on the “Beyond the Gun” campaign and helped launch two national campaigns around civic engagement!

Ultimately the “Fight for a Future” network was designed to help young people across the country fight for a future free of gun violence. I was very honored to serve on the council and continue to support Generation Progress.

6. How can millennials contribute in the present and in the future?

I think the best way my generation can contribute to the fight to eradicate gun violence is by opening dialogue and most importantly amplifying the voices of women and communities of color in this fight.

I feel very hopeful with the rise of attention and energy with March for Our Lives and generation Z calling out elected officials and holding them accountable, it is exciting and awe-inspiring. However, I believe it is the job of our generation to help guide Gen Z in this fight and offer our networks, resources, and platforms to them.

7. Tell us the positive implications of the Illinois State Council for Women and Girls

Currently, in the Illinois General Assembly there is not a centralized group, database or organization that monitors policy and statewide programs for women and girls. The Illinois Council on Women and Girls will serve as the nucleus. I firmly believe that it is high time that women and girls have an equal voice in legislation that is being written about them.

Also, the IL Council on Women and Girls Act is not just a piece of legislation, the women and girls who have contributed to building this Council sees this as an education piece. We want to use this Council as an opportunity to shift the way society looks at women and girls, we hope to do that by analyzing policy and developing great programming around the state. This is also the first time a Council of this kind will include the voices of the Trans community. The goal was to stretch the possibilities of this Council as much as we could and I am so proud of the legislation that was written by civil rights attorney Maaria Mozaffar, the coalition building that Representative Anna Moeller and Senator Jacqueline Collins did while carrying this bill in the General Assembly. This Council will truly be historic!

8. How can women make an impact in their own community?

I always simply request that women and girls speak up at every table they are invited to. I think that in order to be comfortable with speaking up it requires a lot of practice, you do not just develop that voice overnight.

By utilizing your voice as a woman or girl you become apart of the problem solving process and that’s how we shift culture and stereotypes around the attitude toward us! Also, find a topic, issue or campaign that you are passionate about and work on that. Build your hard and soft skills as you advocate for that issue and watch how much you grow. It’s always easiest to do the work when you are passionate about it. Lastly, bring other women and girls along with you. Try your hardest to learn from demographics and groups of women and girls you are not apart of. For me it was engaging with women and girls in state prisons and juvenile detention centers. Hearing their perspective and point of view gave me a new fresh outlook on how to focus on equity and inclusion. If we want this women’s movement to look different from the movements before we will need to fight for those women and girls who too often get left behind.

9. You are a true example of a strong empowered woman. Who is your role model?

I don’t have just one specific role model. I have been blessed to sit in a circle of strong women who have led by example. They were tough but kind, intelligent and wise- but most importantly taught me the value of inclusion of all women. An example of this was my educators throughout life who affirmed me as a child and told me “Kina, you aren’t too bossy you are strong” or “Kina you aren’t loud you just have something to say”. Those affirmations prepared me for college classrooms and the boardroom. I know who I am and that my potential is limitless because of all the tangible leadership and strong feminine figures in my life who encourage me to “go for it”. But my top five easily:

1.) Mom
2.) Grandmothers
3.) Sister’s (Renee, Nakita and Tequira)
4.) Sameena Mustafa
5.) Michelle Obama- Because it’s Michelle Obama! 🙂

10. What’s your message to all women out there who are afraid to take risks and stand up for themselves?

I learned a valuable lesson about this recently. I made a public exit from the IL gubernatorial primary election this year. Several people “warned” me about the ramifications of my actions and how it might negatively impact my career. For me the decision was easy, it was a moral decision and I knew I had to do what was right and step away.

What I learned about taking risk and standing up for myself as a woman was that, women and girls are the core of any society, we are the gatekeepers of our community! We have a true obligation to do good and seek justice because more times than not we are being discriminated against. So my ultimate advice is to always speak your truth and walk in your truth.

Learn more about the Illinois Council on Women and Girls