The success story everyone loves to hear
Crystal is the conflict of experiences no one quite understands, but the success story everyone loves to hear. She was born in Buffalo, New York and raised on the City’s East Side, one of the areas toughest, most impoverished areas. This environment greatly influenced certain outcomes for Crystal and almost swallowed her up entirely as a youth. But her comeback was destined to be much greater than any set back that was in store. Teenage pregnancy, the military, law school – all challenges she survived and help her thrive. After working for Buffalo’s 1st African American Mayor for almost 12 years, 5 of those years in a cabinet-level position, she now serves as the Chief of Staff to the President of Buffalo State College and manages part-time, her Legal Services Coaching firm, Crystal J. Rodriguez, Esq., LLC. A far cry from what many expected.
A precocious child, Crystal’s academic achievement earned her a full scholarship to one of the City’s most prestigious high schools. “I was nervous about going and not quite sure I would be able to perform academically” she remembers. Fairly soon, she found out that academics would be the least of her worries. “Diversity, or should I say the lack of it, had a profoundly negative effect on me and how I fit in. My family wasn’t rich. I didn’t have stylish clothes. I was wearing hand-me-downs from family members. I tried the best I could but I just didn’t fit in and ultimately, ended up being expelled.”
When things began to go downhill, basically homeless
From there, things began to go downhill – QUICKLY! Now 16 and attending public school, Crystal began skipping classes and her relationship with her parents was strained. “It was a little bit more than just being a rebellious teen. I was dealing with some emotionally damaging dynamics. My Step-Father and Mother separated, and he was huge, motivating part of my life. From day to day, my emotions were all over the place. One day, I’d be mad at him for leaving, then the next mad at my Mom for making him leave. There were other influencing factors, too. I guess you could say it was surprising I waited until I was 16 to run away”, she continued.
Basically homeless, Crystal bounced around staying with friends until finally she ended up meeting a 36-year-old drug dealer who would change her life forever. Rock bottom was inevitable. By now she had stopped going to school altogether, had been arrested for gun and drug possession, and was a very different girl from the precocious learner with a bright future only a few years before. “I hardly recognized myself. Looking back, there were so many instances- if I could just tell the 16-year-old me to make a different decision-I would.” Rock bottom was traumatic and painful. One-night Crystal and some of her friends were witnesses to a brutal murder and shooting. “Up until this moment, it was all fun and games. I was a tough girl. I was hard. But seeing a bullet go through someone’s head wasn’t something I was prepared to experience. I realized at that very moment it was far from fun. My life was in danger and I couldn’t just walk away, un-scathed.”
However, she did try to walk away, in fact out of fear, she ran away. “I was a liability at that point. The very people with whom I spent hours every day ‘in the game’ now were hunting me. I was the prey.” Eventually, it all caught up to her. That 36-year-old drug dealer indeed hunted her down and sent a message loud and clear – keep your mouth shut or you will die too. She got the message. And what she did next was remarkably brave. “It was really the first time, I think, I decided I wasn’t going to be intimidated. I guess I picked a hell of a time to stand up for myself, right?” Fading in and out of consciousness after being brutally beaten, she managed to get to a house and call her mother.
I broke down and cried
“My Step father’s Uncle was the 1st Black police Captain in the Buffalo Police Department -Floyd Edwards.” It was with Capt. Edwards that the remarkable journey of redemption began. “I was in the hospital. It was a pretty bad beating. And I shared with my mom and dad what I had witnessed. For the first time since witnessing it, I broke down and cried. Sobbed actually. I had witnessed something traumatic and had I not had that moment to sob, to release, I think the constant replay of what happened would have hardened me and broke my spirit. It almost did.”
Forced to testify in the murder trial, Crystal was faced with a dilemma that would follow her for the rest of her life. To say what she witnessed and be labeled a snitch in her community or say nothing. “I struggled with that for years. But as I grew, I learned that there’s a distinct difference between a ‘Snitch’ and a ‘Witness’. The two are not the same at all.” And it’s this distinction that often appears in her talks with young people on the East Side where she grew up. In one of the speeches where she candidly shares her shocking story, she explains, “A snitch is someone involved in criminal activity with others who then tells on those people to get some benefit for themselves. A witness is someone who sees a crime they were not in any way involved. A witness is not a snitch and you shouldn’t let criminals who hold entire communities hostage with terrorizing violence intimidate you to buy in to this mistaken belief.” What she says resonates. She’s speaking their language.
Determined never to return
After making the hard decision to testify, Crystal worked on obtaining her High School Equivalency diploma all while being a teenage mom. Soon after, she left the City she was born and raised in, determined never to return. It was the military that brought about the most significant change in her life and to her mind-set as well. For 8 years she travelled from base to base and it took her that long to complete her undergraduate degree. She finally finished at California State University, San Marcos and graduated with her BA in Social Sciences with concentrations in Political Science, History and Sociology while serving in the U.S. Navy.
Law School is what finally brought her back to Buffalo where she earned a pair of law degrees (J.D. & LL.M.) from the University at Buffalo Law School and soon after began working for the newly elected Mayor of the City. She had worked hard to come back from the tragedies of her teenage years. Now, she tried even harder to hide them from her new colleagues and political constituency. “It was stressful. I felt like if they knew what I had gone through, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I wouldn’t be able to advance, two law degrees or not.” It was while working in City government that she realized she had to – for political and moral reasons- share her unbelievable experiences. “A political adversary threatened to use my background against me. Again, I felt intimidated and I had to take that power back. But in doing so – which was not easy – it became clear to me that the very people I wanted to help while working in public service, were better able to relate to me once they knew I grew up in the same area and had shared experiences. I owed it to them to share my story.”
More than just her story
She has shared more than just her story. She used her experience and unique insight to become an asset to the administration and serving for 8 years fighting for racial equity as the Executive Director for the City’s Commission on Citizens’ Rights & Community Relations. It was then that the Mayor named Crystal the City’s 1st Chief Diversity Officer, a cabinet-level position where she was able to work more on policy addressing issues of Racial Equity and helping Minority and Female Business Enterprises. It’s while doing this that Crystal had the idea to create her Legal Services Coaching firm to assist Women and Minorities getting started in business and help them to set it up properly. “I was trying to make the case for usage of more minority and woman-owned companies, but I was finding that these companies and their owners didn’t have the support they needed to structure properly as viable candidates for contracts. I couldn’t take the time needed to provide one-on-one services to everyone, so I created an easy-to-do online course along with contract templates every business needs to structure property, have their legal questions answered and feel supported.”
From that idea, things have organically grown. Today, the firm offers low-cost business structuring in New York State as well as more of the contract templates business owners need to get going and sustain. “I try to make the legal part ‘Crystal Clear’ and I try to provide the most benefit at a price new entrepreneurs can afford so they can get started easily. I really want to remove as many legal obstacles as I can to help businesses get what they need and be protected.”
Entrepreneurial Retreat for Female business owners
Since leaving public service, Crystal has entered the realm of Higher Education and still finds time for her clients. Right now, I can’t leave my 9-5. I switched jobs so I could have more free time, but I am also learning to be more intentional and present in what I am doing. Time management is key and work life balance is important. Also, I still believe in sharing what I have learned and am learning.” Crystal is hard at work planning an Entrepreneurial Retreat for Female business owners taking place in April 2019. The retreat, called “Attract, Manifest, Repeat!” is the first of its kind in the area. While many have told her she won’t be successful and shouldn’t do it, staying true to her usual MO, she is pressing forward with her plans. “There’s that limiting thinking again- which can be a form of intimidation. Why can’t I put it together? Why is it too big? See, my questions are different. Why shouldn’t the female entrepreneurs here have THIS? Why don’t they deserve this level of networking, learning and sharing? My answer quite simply is – of course they do and bull shit on thinking anything different.”
The retreat is being held at one of the City’s most exclusive venues and is sure to be a weekend full of quality content, fun, networking, learning and “quite simply, everything an entrepreneur would need to get their business started, to grow and scale as they want.” There will be a networking event; workshops on finances, finding time for exercise, business funding, vision boards, marketing, social media, recognizing your why and public speaking. Then attendees will enjoy a full day with Crystal who will go over everything from business structure to contracts to beating procrastination. “I am literally giving them everything they need to structure their business and build the foundation to be successful and remain sane while doing it.”
When asked if she is going crazy herself planning such an event, she responds, “Not at all. It’s surprisingly therapeutic. I’m enjoying planning and I feel a little like Oprah with everything I’m giving away. While no one is going to get a car, they will leave will tons of value; the knowledge they need to structure their lives and businesses, and, hopefully, feeling rested and rejuvenated enough to tackle what’s next.” The retreat’s keynote speaker is Maliha Cox of Maliha Cox Coaching, who will discuss the importance of alignment and will walk retreat participants through the process of coming into alignment and how it leads to more abundance, followed by the 5 crucial steps for achieving alignment. The presentation will wrap up with a brief overview of the essentials of a healthy mindset as well as the importance of strategy. Maliha is Crystal’s very own Coach and again, she is sharing. “I think by being transparent and sharing not only the ups, but also the downs, and how I manage them, is important. What better way to do that than to share with everyone the very person who showed me how to cope and attract more of what I want in life?”
Attract, Manifest, Repeat!
We end with one question, why the name “Attract, Manifest, Repeat!” for the retreat and Crystal’s response pretty much sums up the lessons she has learned through the varied experiences in her life, “Those three words, have become very important to me. I am learning that everything that has happened in my life from the time I was able to make decisions for myself, to now, was because I created it in some way. You attract what you are. So, if you want different, you must learn to be different. Our lives are nothing but manifestations of our own thoughts, conscious or not. You can actually manifest change, improvement, something better – whatever that may be for you. Once you master these concepts, besides the inspired action you take, there’s nothing left to do except repeat the process over and over again in every aspect of your life. I want to help others do just that. I’m still learning but I’ve come very far. It’s only fair that I share.”
Find out more about the services Crystal J. Rodriguez, Esq., LLC offers by visiting: www.CrystalRodriguezEsq.com
For more information on the Attract, Manifest, Repeat! Retreat visit: www.AttractManifestRepeat.com
Crystal can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @CrystalClearEsq