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Pennie for your Thoughts: Collins Pennie

Pennie for your Thoughts: Collins Pennie

Growing up in New York, Collins had a path set for him that was far from the golden road to Oz.  He knew he was a talented kid. He wasn’t sure of what a talent was but he knew that he loved to perform and wanted to be a star. He knew that he loved performing and could always see himself on a stage, being a performer. He had an amazing imagination and would daydream all of the time about anything that was interesting. This wasn’t something that started as a teenager; Collins started doing this around 5 years old.

“I was in the bathroom pretending that it was a spaceship so it was the norm for me,” Collins says as we laugh. “My room was a pirate ship, at night I was in a horror movie while everyone was sleeping. I would be in the hall way acting as if someone was out to get me. That’s what I did for fun as a kid. It was strange but that’s what I did”

The first 13 years of his life were rough but happy. Collin lived with his mother and sister in the Fortgreen Projects of Brooklyn. Like any one in the projects, there were struggles, but the major struggle was trying to get out. Collins mother worked hard to pull her kids from the rough neighborhoods of the borough and succeeded. When Collins was 13, his mother relocated the family to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Though the effort was strong and made with love, changing the location of the family didn’t change the circumstances. “Financially it was very tough on her,” Collins explains. “She was an amazing mom but the system got involved and decided that she was not able to take care of us and I no longer needed to be at home.”

After their involvement was made valid, they removed Collins and his sister from his mothers’ home and placed them into the states foster care system of Massachusetts. The system was rough for him. Due to being bounced from home to home and from district to district, Collins ended up going to 11 Different schools within a 2 year period. But the schools were the least of his problems.

“There are a lot of different things going from household to household behind closed doors,” Collins says with a hint of pain. “There’s always a way of living that people have that you don’t see in the outside. There were drugs and there was abuse and things of that nature and it was very tough for me. I wasn’t eating.”

In the foster care system, households are given a stipend for each child and that child’s needs. Sadly in this day and age, there are a lot of families that re just taking in the kids for the paychecks. Collins had to deal with that circumstance. The situation became so extreme that he had to end up stealing to survive. He wasn’t stealing cars, car stereos, or bikes; Collins was stealing toothpaste, soap, and food out of the local “Stop and Shops”.

“I don’t feel like the system cared about me,” he says. “I had to go out and try to do things on my own. I wasn’t a bad kid; I was just a kid that had dreams and an unfortunate situation and circumstance. So I was surviving and had to learn to grow up really fast. I just did the best that I could.”

Eventually, after taking all that he could from the foster homes, Collins began to hang out with some of the wrong people and doing the things that he wanted to do. His primary want of wanting to go home to live with his mother again wasn’t an option. Seeing that he could have his way, he hung out in the streets and landed himself in a new home, a juvenile detention facility.

CPennie3612magIronically, the detention facility gave Collins a lot of the structure he needed. He wasn’t happy that he had to take off his shoes and be locked in a bedroom to go to sleep. Nonetheless, he made his situation his triumph from the corrupt standards of the foster care system. He ended up totally spending 6 months in the facility. For him, the time was well spent.

“There was time (spent) that we had to go to school, there was time (spent) that we were in the gym, and there was time (spent) that we were watching TV,” Collins explains. “I utilized all of the time working on my craft. I would be in there singing and I would work out hard in the gym. I was always thinking about when I got out and what I would do to get to where I wanted to be.”

Collins was devastated when he spent his 15th birthday in the juvenile facility and he told himself at that point, that he was going to go out and pursue his dreams and goals. After he was released from the detention home, he ran away back to NY and left the foster care establishment behind. Fleeing the system until he was 16 years old and able to emancipate himself, Collins was on his own, struggling and hustling to achieve his dream.

When he turned 16 years old, Collins got himself into dancing and enrolled into Strawsburg, and Circle in the Square.  He knew that he would need acting training to perfect his craft. Thought he didn’t have the money to buy books to learn about the entertainment industry, Collins didn’t allow any excuses whatsoever. “I went to the drama bookshop and since I didn’t have money I would spend my day in there reading books,” he explained. “I would go to hotels and eat the continental breakfast so that I had food. I went to the library and things of that nature. I’m a stickler on concentrating on your craft and really making it about the work so I trained hard and I still train.”

The training and hard work began to show its rewards when Collins landed his first real role on the long time crime drama “Law and Order”. As incredible as that was for him, his first big break came after he was reading in a newspaper about a role which ended up being “Half Nelson”. The Movie was actually a small independent film that worked its way up the ranks and into the Academy Awards. At that moment, Collins knew his life had just changed.

“I got signed to Ford Model Management,” Collins says happily. “My biggest modeling job while signed to Ford Model Management was a CK One campaign. It was worldwide. I was on the box and I had a billboard in SoHo New York. It was a beautiful thing. I was trying to take a second to stop and say oh wow I did this. But where I am from you are constantly hustling for the next thing.  I think I am just getting to the point of taking in the CK One campaign.”

Soon after, he relocated to California and met a casting director by the name of Twinky Bird, who really took him under her wing (no pun intended) and referred him to get his first leading role in the thriller Prom Night. The writers actually wrote a part bigger to bring Collins to a lead role. Then I did a comedy called Fire Up.

Collins came across an amazing opportunity when he found out about the casting for the role of Malik in the recreation of the musical “Fame”. There was a very intense auditioning process that spanned for over 5 months. Due to his resilience and determination, he landed the role. But, it was another roadblock in his path. The casting Directors were looking for a bi-racial kid to play that particular role and Collins is Black.

“I had to fight my way into the door to show them that this is me and this was my life, that you will know and you will get it,” Collins says passionately. “It was a repetitive sequence of dancing scene, rapping, acting, dancing scene, rapping, and acting. When I got the call that I got the part, I was absolutely floored. They say that God can dream a bigger dream than you can dream for yourself. I would have never dreamed that I would be a part of such an epic movie or a movie that has such a following and people hold it very close to their heart. So I’m very humbled by it and I never take it for granted every day, where I’ve come from, and how I got here now.”

Though it was a long road, the one person that has always been there for him is the person that the child care system tried to take away from him, his mother.

“My mom is my greatest inspiration,” Collins says with joy. “She is such a hard working woman. She raised two beautiful children. My sister is in Med School and I am doing what I’m doing. I’m very blessed. We are very close and she supports me. I’m proud of her and she’s proud of me. I love my momma.”

And Collins momma loves him. According to Collins, the fact that her son is actually a celebrity is just starting to get to her. It didn’t happen with the CK One ad, of the first three movies, though. It happened when she saw his face pop up in the most unlikely place.

“There is a poster that was done for Fame and it is just me says ‘Fame’ underneath of me and my mom saw it and she was tripping,” Collins says laughing. “That was the first time I have seen her trip out. She was praising the Lord and caught the Holy Spirit. I was like “yeah mama, I’m a star-ra I’ve been trying to tell you this for a minute now.”

When most people would have turned their life into a life of crime and failure, Collins turned his into a motivational example for anyone that ha been or is in a situation they don’t want to be in.  He is a success story. He can turn back at the young age that he is and see that the trials and tribulations have been more than worth it. There is one moment in his journey that he would change. It’s not the Detention home or the running away from foster care. It’s something a little closer to the heart.

“There was a time that I spent that my mom and I didn’t talk for a while,” Collins says. “If I could change anything, I would change that. We may have some spats and some misunderstandings but I love her. As far as my struggle and how I got here I wouldn’t change that for the world. It built my character and made me the person that I am. I learned so much and experienced so much more. There are friends that I have today that just don’t get it. They are much older than me and have still not grown up. I kind of feel lucky that I got to experience certain sides of life and certain things that will allow me to be much more mature and handle myself in the world today and be able to appreciate life the way I do.”