So, I interviewed Crystal King. – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

So, I interviewed Crystal King.

Warning: I may have modified her answers for some questions to reduce any confusion on her message. Ok, I totally did, but this way her message gets out and I can do less typing. It’s win-win. I’m sorry this is kind of long, but there is a lot of great stuff in here.
Ataia: Tell me about your background.
Crystal: I graduated from Michigan State with a degree in Economic Geography and a minor in Business. Before I graduated, I did three internships. One is a property Management at Quicken Loans. Another is Venture Capital internship in New York and the last internship that I did was at a nonprofit called the American Association of Geographers. My work experience is being a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, a large insurance company. Then I came to ProsperUS as a Financial Coach and now I am a Loan Officer.
Ataia: That’s really cool that you had so much experience. So, you already talked about how you got involved with the nonprofit by like coming in as a financial coach. What made you want to get into social Justice work?
Crystal: Well, being a black person from Detroit, you are made aware of the economic disparities that Detroiters face in comparison to their suburban counterparts at a very young age. I remember the housing crisis because it affected my family; it affected our lives. I remember the bankruptcy in Detroit. Going to Detroit Public Schools and you know having books that are 15 years old and raggedy. Being in classes with 30 to 40 people and not having clean drinking water, and not even having access to transportation. I took the bus and stuff like that. My family grew up relatively low-income. When I went to Michigan State was when I realized how much different the world was from my own experience and how being from Detroit, growing up low income in Detroit was a very, very, very unique experience and not having access to certain things like transportation, like a computer, like internet at home to do your homework and stuff like that. It just became something that I cared about when other people didn’t and I wanted to advocate for people like me. 
Ataia: That’s amazing (I said great but I meant amazing) I think I have had like a similar experience. It was really jarring to go into Fall semester of my freshman year and thinking like “oh, all of these people are very white. No more black people. All the black people that I knew were there were just lost in the crowd of whiteness. I remember the first time I noticed that I was the darkest person in the room and being keenly aware of my blackness when I have never thought about it like that before. (Side note: Y’all, I am lightskin and ambiguous. I should never be the darkest person in any room. That means diversity is an issue at umich.) Also, when like black people or slavery or something came up in class, all the white people would turn to like…
Crystal: to look at you! They directly at you. Like, “what do you have to say about this?” I definitely have similar experiences as well and that is not a fun experience to have.
Ataia: Yeah. It’s not great. Okay, so you grew up in Detroit and you are currently working for the Detroit community. Would you explain how you understand the people in the communities that ProsperUS serves?
Crystal: Yeah. I think that it is important to note that not ll black people in Detroit are poor or struggling. There are middle class people or wet to do people in Detroit. Statistically, the average income is like $32,000 which is below the poverty rate. A third of people don’t have transportation or access to technology. Hopefully, it has changed. A significant amount of people who do work have to travel outside of Detroit and the people that work in Detroit are from the suburbs. I don’t know. I’m just saying all of that to say that it’s hard because people have this image of Detroit the it’s abandoned and poor and stuff. That’s not everyone’s experience. I don’t want to speak for every person in Detroit because I’m not every person in Detroit. The people that I care about the most re those that have been constantly pushed to the side because they’re low income and constantly unable to get out of this cycle of poverty because they have bills that don’t meet the income that they have and it’s very challenging for them to move out of that situation because of the way that capitalism works in our society. I’ve seen a lot of people that had a hard time getting transportation and got a car loan from a place that shall not be named. They end up dealing for years with this car company that put something negative on their credit report. Then because of that negative thing on their credit report, it tanks their credit so they can’t get another car or buy a house or get an apartment. They can’t do all of these things that everyone needs to do because they don’t have the credit or income or both because they were put at a disadvantage in the first place and it has a lot to do with their race (black). Honestly, in my opinion. A lot of people that we work with come to entrepreneurship are passionate about it, but also because they do not have other options in our society to make money to support themselves and their families. Then, the city “amplifies” or creates this focus around entrepreneurs and be like “yeah, you should be an entrepreneur and make your own money.” When instead what they should be doing is putting the resources towards make during that people with criminal records can get a job, making sure that people can work despite if they can’t pass a drug test. The problem is lack of traditional employment that actually supports their household financial needs. Instead of really and truly addressing that, the city would rather amplify entrepreneurs and then make people think that entrepreneurship is the way, which it is for some but everybody.
Ataia: Doesn’t it make it kind of complicated to have so many entrepreneurs in one place because of the limited access to buildings, consumers, and stuff like that? You know, I can only buy candles from so many brands.
Crystal: I don’t think that there is a surplus of entrepreneurship and I say that because a lot of the people just don’t have the resources to make a lot of money off their business in the first place. The people who are doing okay have people in their neighborhoods and in their network. Detroit is big enough to have 50 or 500 candle shops. You know, this is the one in this neighborhood, this is the one in that neighborhood. There is enough room for everybody to do well, but people don’t even have what they need to be able to even buy a space whether they purchase it or lease it. People don’t have what they need to et their materials. They’ll have what they need to get so far but it gets capped or plateau because they only have so many resources by themselves and it’s so difficult for them to access capital. You know even here, where we work so closely with folks so that it can be easier for them to access capital. There are so many challenges in the process alone of going through a loan application that still hinders so many people. So, I think there’s plenty of room for everybody but the truth and reality is that not everybody is going to do well because a lot of people do not have the resources to do well. 
Ataia: Okay, this piqued my interest. Can you talk about the challenges that ProsperUS experiences when they are trying to help their most complicated clients?
Crystal: I won’t even say that the clients are complicated, just their situations are because they just haven’t had access to certain things. One thing is trust. It is so important, especially working with people in this community. They have to truly trust you and be open and honest about their obstacles hat are getting in their way as they are trying to work with us. There are so many reasons why people fall off. They have to trust that you are there to support them and then us to be able to give them what they need. A lot of it is hands on support, 1:1 time devoted to whatever their issue is. For some the (entrepreneurship) training isn’t enough. Some people just have so many obstacles. They need more income, transportation, food to feed their kids, childcare. Some people just have so many other issues that are systemic and it makes it harder for us to do our job and for them to show up as their full selves and be dedicated to their business. I would just say that the larger issues at play make it even more difficult tp create that relationship and get them to where they need to be or get them to a yes when it comes to lending specifically. Does the make sense? Was that helpful?
Ataia: Yeah, no. It was and very detailed. Thank you. When things get very difficult, what keep you motivated 
Crystal: What keeps me motivated is that I see myself in the people we are working with. I’m not separated from this community in any way, shape, or form. The people that people deal with that I work with are the same issues that my immediate family and extended family absolutely deals with at this current moment. So what keeps me motivated is that I try to treat people as I would my own family, honestly, because I see myself in them so much to be able to just support them as much as I possibly can to get them to A next level, if not THE next level. Somewhere where they were not before that is better for the long run than they were in. I mean and I know people who have gone through the program that I actually know, so that is it. Yeah, I want to see my people do well. So, I try my absolute best. It’s difficult and very emotional work, but that’s what keeps me motivated. 
Ataia: and because you work so closely with people and are so passionate on supporting them, would you say that it is a job that is responded with gratitude?
Crystal: It is a job that is more than a job, at least for me. It’s not a job; it is truly my life. I am living my own personal missions everyday that I show up to work and work with someone that is in our community. I don’t volunteer because my work is already so emotionally compelling that I don’t have it to go volunteer or whatever. And I’m like, “I don’t need to volunteer because my everyday work is dedicated to social justice.” People volunteer to get what I’m getting out of my everyday work. It feels rewarding when you can get somebody what they need. When you can’t, it feels…very challenging…It sucks a lot. As an empathetic person, whatever emotions people go through, I go through them too. If somebody is crying because they didn’t get a loan or something happened to their credit, I’m crying too. It’s great when it’s good and when it’s bad, it’s horrible for me personally. It’s a lot. 
Ataia: Thank you for sharing. This will be the last question. How often are you not able to some people to the next level?
Crystal: I would say very often. In general, because there are so many things that impact people’s lives. Like I can only do so much and they have to do their part as well AND the systems have to work in there favor. So, there’s three components: me, them, and the outside world around them. I don’t want to say people can get in their own way, but sometimes it happens. They’re not ready for change. They’re not ready to be in abetter situation and obviously you struggle before it gets good, but a lt of people are afraid of that change, what could happens and may hold themselves back by not doing something that I requested or… they’re just not emotionally ready for a change and then there are several other things that may be fighting against them like a collection, or some new negative debt, or not being able to get that they need from somewhere else. But yeah three components. I can only do so much. They have to do their parts too and it has to work in their favor and so very often (unfortunately) I don’t see someone in a better situation for a long time. 
Ataia: and how does ProsperUS respond to that? I know I said that would be that last question, but this id definitely the last one. I promise. 
Crystal: Well, I won’t speak for ProsperUS. I’ll speak for myself. But things take time, especially when we are speaking about the black community, the people here with all of the things that are facing them (in a negative way). This isn’t an overnight thing; it’s generational. It’s years and years and years and dozens and hundreds of years of things (oppression, let’s be real) that has put people in the position that they are in. I’m not dealing just with an individual person; I’m dealing with a history of things that have happened to not just one person, but all the people like them in this community. My strategy is to continue to do my job and do the best that I can at it and hope that it make a change. prosperUS’s strategy is…our leader/executive director is really focused on being innovative and making changes where they help and setting ourselves apart from the other organizations that are to as high touch with the entrepreneurs as we are and with the problems that low income black and other people of color face here. 
Wasn’t this interview so beautiful! I am truly inspired but Crustal and the rest of the ProsperUS team for that matter. I also want to share the best advice I got from Crystal in one of our daily meetings. I did not record this, unfortunately so this is completely paraphrased. This fight has been going on for a long time. Crystal, themselves, has sort of given up fight the system, but I shouldn’t give up like she did. It’s so important to see things through now more than ever. Also, there’s no right way to do this. All we can do is keep doing stuff that works and figure out how to move forward. 

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