Judy Collins’ Legacy of Resilience

by Rev. Jennifer Crumpton

Auburn celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Lives of Commitment Awards on April 20, 2016. Lives of Commitment honors bold and resilient leaders, like Judy Collins (a 2003 honoree), who bridge divides, build community, pursue justice and heal the world. RSVP: bit.ly/loc2016.

Judy Collins has built an uncommon career in the arts.

Her father, a blind musician who refused to live as if he had a disability and modeled a life of intention and discipline, was a guiding light. Beginning at age 13 as a classical piano prodigy and releasing her debut folk album in 1961 at age 22, Collins went on to become a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, a filmmaker and author, and a social activist. Today, Collins continues to create, perform and inspire as an artistic icon in American culture.

Yet it is not her many successes she wants to talk about, it’s the journey.

Collins survived polio in her youth, tuberculosis as a young adult, bulimia, depression and alcoholism, and the later suicide of her only child. Through each challenge and tragedy, she credits her ability to overcome and thrive to her ability to stay curious, find help, try new methods of growth, and never stop seeking.

“Never give up. No matter what, keep going forward. Make yourself the engine behind what you want to do in life,” says Collins to young women who want to make a difference by living out their own unique dreams.

Resilience is the legacy of Collins’ spiritually-oriented ancestors of Irish and English origin, some of whom were writers and spiritual adventurers. Resilience in tough circumstances is the foundation of the “Americana of immigrant life, where you figure out what to do to get ahead and do something with your life, always looking for solutions,” she says.

Collins’ career has been a reflection of that process, and music has been a spiritual path that has both healed her and enlightened those who listen to her. “Each concert is a form of meditation,” she says, contributing to self-realization that leads her to her next endeavor. She sees each person’s calling as a form of yoga, or as the spiritual and mental process that teaches and sustains them, and reveals their purpose. Such attention to consistent personal development and the positive impact it has had on her music, her career, her fans, and social progress is a way of life she observes in many female entertainers today.

Collins says that young women are changing the modern landscape of both music and society because they have taken the lessons learned from the past, are organized in their thinking and their work, are savvy about the support teams they surround themselves with—and perhaps most importantly—unabashedly assert their independence.

“[You have to] be aware you are the center of your universe and responsible for making sure that what needs to happen does,” she says, and successful women today know their business and take control.

“The women’s movement has been terribly important to me,” she says; and indeed, she has been on the cutting edge with famous activists like Gloria Steinem. But Collins has also made a difference by simply being authentically herself. She believes that women in music—and the freedom and notoriety they have had—helped women in society at large become recognized as talented, competent and valuable leaders across all fields. Not only were female musicians a big part of the sexual revolution, but women like Tina Turner, she says, “moved our consciousness forward, showed [us] what could be done.”

Collins intentionally mentors young women, hiring her current manager when she was only 21 and teaching her the business from the ground up. In turn, her manager taught her about the internet and using social media to communicate with her fans.

“Having young people and new thought around [me] is important,” she says.

Though she once marched against wars, registered voters in Mississippi and served as an ambassador for UNICEF, she says her current work with mental health is critical, since it is the catalyst for so many issues in the United States, like drug and alcohol abuse and the prison industrial complex. Collins is the author of several memoirs and books on the issue, including Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival, and Strength.

“People really need help,” she says, and her books and public speaking tours are designed to educate people, remove stigmas and solve problems in our systems.

She views her chance to interact with people around the topic of mental health and directly talk to people about their experiences as the main event of her career. “That’s the big show,” she says. “My writing [on this subject] has been more important than the music.” Connecting and helping others is her legacy as a powerful woman determined to improve not just herself, but the world.

Join us in honoring and supporting leaders like Judy Collins on the front lines of social change by purchasing a ticket or making a contribution to Auburn’s Lives of Commitment Awards: bit.ly/loc2016.

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