What Are You Reading? KenDrell D. Collins

I serve as a trial attorney at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Arkansas, which is an organization that works to ensure no person is disadvantaged simply because of their inability to afford private legal counsel.  My hometown is Osceola, AR, but I moved to Little Rock in 2011, left after getting my business degree at UA Little Rock, and returned in 2018.

What are you reading at the moment?

I like to juggle at least two books at a time—one in print, one in audio. This month I’m reading my signed copy of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I’m a little late to the game since it was originally published in 2014 and will be released as a movie in December 2019, but its message is as relevant as ever. This half-memoir, half-call to arms chronicles the journey and revelations of a young lawyer in the Deep South representing those believed to be wrongfully accused. As for the audiobook, I’m listening to Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age by Microsoft president Brad Smith. He discusses the fallout of living in a world dominated by technology. There are governmental, societal, and moral concerns that accompany progress in the realm of social media, cyberwar, artificial intelligence and surveillance. My reason for reading this book is twofold: One, I’m working on my own science-fiction novel. Two, it examines the challenges that my generation and those after mine must face.

What book or other media most contributed to your success?

As a young boy, I lived next door to St. John Full Gospel Church, so attending Sunday morning service was a forgone conclusion. Though much of the Bible was confusing at the time and hardly the ideal entertainment for a child whose mind was ever-seeking stimulation, the Book of Proverbs always attracted me. I would chew over and over on its bite-sized yet potent sayings. The themes of seeking wisdom, developing self-discipline, speaking honestly, enduring hardship, building a reputation, and living a life of discernment undoubtedly shaped my view of the world. The Book of Proverbs sparked my appetite for being a holistically “good” and knowledge-seeking individual. Naturally I internalized the words of the book and find myself returning to the text often for its simplicity and clarity.

What role has reading played in your life?

Reading has always been a means for me to step into the minds of people who are smarter and more experienced than me. I remember reading books like Carter G. Woodson’s Mis-education of the Negro or the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The way the writers spoke of self-education as a vehicle to a more meaningful life created an almost obsessive desire to consume new information. Books also enabled me, as a child growing up in a rural, southern town, to mentally journey beyond the sometimes-boring scenes of daily life. Reading has been a fortress for me in hard moments too. Books like Elie Wiesel’s Night remind me that someone somewhere, be it on another continent or in another century, has experienced all the despair or resignation that I could ever feel. I think that by connecting me to the lives of so many other people, reading has fundamentally helped make me more human.