Collins, Barbara-Rose 1939–
Barbara-Rose Collins 1939–
A woman of principle and determination, U.S. congressional representative Barbara-Rose Collins has promised to put urban issues in the political spotlight. Collins’s roots are in the city. She was born in Detroit in 1939 and in the ensuing decades saw her streets—and the streets of urban America in general—slowly deteriorate. From her earliest involvement in politics, she has been concerned with the widespread devastation of so many of the nation’s cities. In speaking with Frank McCoy of Black Enterprise magazine, she declared, “The cities have been forsaken.… The United States needs a new urban agenda.”
Collins gained valuable political experience as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from 1975 to 1982; eight years of service on the Detroit City Council further sharpened her knowledge of the inner workings— and shortcomings—of government. Collins first became a member of the U.S. Congress in 1990, serving an abbreviated term as a replacement for retiring Representative George W. Crockett, Jr. She enrolled in an intensive five-day course at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government to prepare for the tasks at hand. Attended by other freshmen lawmakers seeking to understand the issues facing the 102nd Congress, this forum brought together the country’s top intellectuals from several disciplines, including academia, business, and government, to discuss such topics as the U.S. budget, the savings and loan crisis, the economy, defense spending, the international trade environment, health care, agriculture, U.S.-Soviet relations, and other foreign policy issues.
Urban concerns, however, were ostensibly absent from the agenda. This was a shock to a congresswoman representing an urban constituency racked by violence, crime, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.
In an interview with Nation’s Cities Weekly, Collins commented, “We spoke with some of the greatest minds of the nation, and none of them dealt with the bread-and-butter problems of the cities.” The Harvard forum seemed to add credence to the belief that America’s cities were no longer a priority in the eyes of the federal government. New monies for urban programs had dried up.
But Collins has never been willing to accept the notion that American cities should take a back seat to other pressing world concerns. For example, she failed to see the logic
Born April 13, 1939, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Versa Richardson; widowed; children: Cynthia, Christopher. Education: Attended Wayne State University; majored in anthropology and political science. Politics: Democrat.
Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, business manager; member of Detroit School Board, Region 1, 1970-73; Michigan House of Representatives, delegate from 21st District of Detroit, 1975-82; member of Detroit City Council, 1982-90; replaced retiring Representative George W. Crockett, Jr. in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991; elected to Congress, representing the 15th Congressional District of Michigan (formerly the 13th District), 1992.
Majority Whip-At-large, 103rd Congress; member of Post Office and Civil Service Committee; chair of Postal Operations and Services Subcommittee. Has also served on Public Works and Transportation Committee and Government Operations Committee. Member of Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
Member: League of Women Voters, ACLU, National Order of Women Legislators.
Awards: Feminist of the Year Award, 1977; Woman of the Year Award, Eta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., 1979; distinguished service award, Shrine of the Black Madonna Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church, 1981; valuable service award for contributions to International Freedom Festival, 1983, and Pershing High School, Detroit Public Schools, 1985.
Addresses: Washington Office —1108 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515-2213. District Office —1155 Brewery Park Blvd., Suite 353, Detroit, Ml 48207-2602.
in providing Eastern European countries with aid when people in major U.S. cities were forced to eat out of garbage cans due to lack of money for food. As a representative from Detroit with a voice in Washington, Collins has promised to be an advocate for the poor by making valuable contributions to urban and social issues.
Another of Collins’s major concerns—again tied directly to the struggle for survival in many American cities—is the plight of the African American male. Her own life has been touched by the tragic reality of violence among youths: her son, Christopher, served a prison term for armed robbery.
Crime, drugs, joblessness, and early, violent deaths, Collins notes, have claimed the lives of far too many young men of color. She has witnessed the cycle of urban decay and watched helplessly as neighborhoods declined and people moved out of the cities; she has seen streets turn into killing fields.
Statistically, Collins’s congressional district (the 13th) lost more population in the 1980s than any other congressional district in the nation. (Due to redistricting, Collins later came to represent the 15th District.) It can be said that Barbara-Rose Collins spoke with authority when she stated: “What you see happening in Detroit, you will eventually see everywhere. Our problems are like a malignancy—it spreads.” She further asserted that “it is in the interest of the nation to solve these problems.”
Since joining the U.S. House, Collins has been the principal sponsor of several bills that were later passed into law, including the Food Dating Bill, the Sex Education Bill, and the Pregnancy Insurance Bill. In addition, while a member of the 103rd Congress, she introduced the Unrenumerated Work Act of 1993, which would recognize and include the value of unpaid labor—performed largely by women—in computing the nation’s Gross National Product (GNP). Unwaged work has always been excluded from such calculations. The Unrenumerated Work Act would require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to obtain a method of measurement to determine the worth of unwaged work and thereby acknowledge the contribution of these workers to the shaping of the American economy.
Collins balances the stress and intensity of a career as a congressional representative with a healthy life perspective. She puts her faith in God and is a very active member of the Shrine of the Black Madonna Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church. Collins enjoys playing the piano and harp and listening to operatic and symphonic music. She loves portrait painting and reading science fiction novels, and she is devoted to her family, which includes a daughter, Cynthia; a son, Christopher; and her four grandchildren.
Black Enterprise, April 1991, p. 25.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, August 8, 1992, p. 2384.
Ebony, January 1991, p. 104.
Hispanic, July 1992, p. 72.
Jet, October 22, 1990, p. 38.
Ms., May-June 1992, p. 91.
Nation’s Cities Weekly, December 24, 1990, p. 3.
New York Times, December 12, 1991, p. A-5.
A short political biography was furnished by Collins’s local district office in late 1993.
—Paula M. Morin
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