Crystal Ivy’s story as told to Jennifer Stanley
My name is Crystal Ivy and I know how to hurdle.
When I look down the white lines on an asphalt track and see obstacle after obstacle, I know just how to pace myself, time my steps, and overcome each one with agility and grace. I have excelled in this sport, winning the Indiana state championship as a junior in High School, and receiving a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to compete with the track & field team at Ball State.
But my life hasn’t been about blue ribbons and victory laps.
When I was eleven years old, my mother died unexpectedly. I wasn’t prepared for a mountain of such pain and finding my way to the other side seemed impossible. My hurt and anger got the best of me and I began disrespecting teachers and other adults. One day a petite, energetic, white woman (who also happened to be my gym teacher) took notice of me. Mrs. Whitacre pulled me to an empty hallway and said, “I know who you are Crystal Anderson. I knew your mama. She was a friend of mine, and she would not like the way you are carrying on. Now, tell me what activities are you involved in?” When I replied, “no activities,” she promptly signed me up for the track team, where I eventually learned how to run and jump faster and higher than anyone else in the school. She didn’t put me on the track team because she thought I would be a track star. She put me on the team because she knew I needed a friend.
I wish I could tell you that my mother’s death was the only hurdle I’ve had to overcome in life, but that wouldn’t be true.
- During High School I experienced my first love and heartbreak.
- As the youngest of five siblings I dealt with a sibling in prison, one who was drug addicted, and one who was called to fight in Desert Storm with the US Army.
- I was involved with a controlling boyfriend who didn’t allow me to make decisions.
- I became pregnant in the middle of my Ball State junior track season.
- I kept my promise to my father and finished my degree, with A’s and B’s, as a single-mom student-athlete.
- I went from a single mom of one to mother of 4 by saying, “I do.” Step-parent challenges are real!
- I was the primary caretaker for my brother as he died of HIV.
Sometimes I wonder how I kept going through these hurdles on the track of my life. What caused me to keep going forward instead of turning back or stopping mid-race?
I believe it goes back to the moment Mrs. Whitacre, noticed me . . . in the midst of my grief and struggle. She became a mentor to me; each day talking with me, helping me get involved, and teaching me to be a better young woman on and off the track. She even kicked me off the 8th grade track team because I was having problems with my attitude. I was supposed to help the team win the city championship, but she knew that helping me become a better young woman was more important than a trophy. Mrs. Whitacre’s influence in my life from 6th to 8th grade definitely impacted the woman I have become and I’m so thankful for her.
Today, I have been happily married 18 years to the best decision I’ve ever made. My husband is my rock and biggest fan. Our five children are a daily reminder of God’s plan for us to travel this life journey together.
In my role as a Juvenile Probation Officer, I work with troubled youth in our community who have a lot of obstacles to overcome. For fourteen years I’ve done my best to help them see the importance of education, family, and community, and their future. When I meet with a new child under my supervision, I always find out what the student is involved in other than school. In the words of Mrs. Whitacre, “Tell me what activities you are involved in.”
After many years of seeing the correlation between the youth in my juvenile probation caseload and their non-involved lifestyle, my daughters and I decided to take action. We started asking young women what kind of activities or programming they wanted to be involved in. We found what barriers they faced in participating, topics they found interesting, and what activities would keep them engaged. In 2007, 4 Girls By Girls was born (www.4gbg.org). Our mission is to embrace, educate, empower, and encourage the lives of young girls through a weekly summer program and the Uniquely Me pageant.
To be honest, I thought the most important part of helping girls in our community was going to be having weekly activities designed and led by the girls. What I’ve discovered though is that the mentors are the real key to influencing these young women. The activities bring us together, but the authentic friendships are what change their lives.
Sometimes when I see a young person with a forced smile on their face, I have so much compassion because I know that that smile is just for show. Underneath, they are hurting and barely holding it together. Other times I see young people who are angry, bitter, and have a poor attitude. I understand them because I recognize times in my own life when I was feeling just like they are. I am especially drawn to the children who have experienced loss. Everyone needs someone in their corner saying, “I believe in you. I support you.”
I’m just one person and I can tell you that my caseload is overflowing with youth in our community who need to be noticed, who need someone in their corner cheering them on. Please, I beg you to not stay on the sidelines. Notice someone who is hurting and help them run their race. Cheer them on and don’t let them quit! With your mentorship and God’s grace, the inevitable hurdles they face will be conquered and they will experience victory.
For many of today’s young people, no one is in their corner.
Over my lifetime, I’ve run a lot of races. I’ve jumped a lot of hurdles. But I know I’m not done yet. I think of the scripture in the book of Hebrews that says, “. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1) This is my race now; giving back to young people the way someone gave to me. It’s my turn to stop and help someone over the next hurdle in their life.
Crystal Ivy is the founder and director of For Girls By Girls. Her daughter Breanna Anderson is the director of Uniquely Me, a pageant that celebrates beauty that comes from within. For more information, please visit www.4gbg.org and watch the video link about Uniquely Me.
Jennifer Stanley is a business owner, fashion stylist, carpool-mom, and occasional writer. You can read her new blog “Life in the Hustle” at www.jenniferstanley.com.
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The Facing Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. The organization’s model to share stories and raise awareness is in cities across the United States focused on topics such as poverty, sex trafficking, mental health, immigration, and more. Facing Project stories are compiled into books and on the web for a community resource, used to inspire art, photography, monologues and—most importantly—community-wide awareness, dialogue, action, and change toward a more understanding and empathetic society.
This story originally appeared in Mentoring in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware County in Muncie, Indiana.