Dr. Crystal Francis grew up in Baltimore County in a community where she could have been influenced by observing people who chose a wrong path in life, but having access to mentors and people outside of her community guided her toward a successful outcome. Courtney Speed was a community leader in Turner Station who gave Francis her first job at Speed’s small, local food store. She also helped Francis to open her first bank account and taught her the importance of saving money.
Although Francis made good grades, both of her parents served in the military. Her mother was a disabled veteran. Her family could not afford to live in the best neighborhood. When Francis thought that she would not be able to attend college because her parents could not afford to send her, Speed stepped up to create a plan for Francis to attend college while dropping little gems of wisdom. Francis became a first-generation college student in her family by earning a scholarship.
Francis earned “a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice, Pre-Law from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a Master of Science degree in Homeland Security Management from Towson University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Public Policy and Administration from Walden University,” according to information provided via https://crystalfrancis.com/meet_crystal.
Today, Francis reaches back to inspire youth as a mentor not losing sight of how it was once done for her. She served as a BWI Marshall Airport Summer Youth Initiative facilitator and speaker on August 4, 2022. During the week, youth were taken to Martin State Airport and Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to expose them to aviation and transportation industry careers.
“A lot of our children don’t have anyone to turn to,” Francis said, mentioning why she gives back to youth participants annually.
Francis was able to use her education to pull her family out of poverty. Her story of success is relatable to a population of youth who grow up in Baltimore. Five different groups rotated to interact with Francis at Martin State Airport. She opened her sessions with a motivational video about never giving up before engaging in a “fireside chat,” when she walked through how youth can prepare themselves to explore career opportunities at a young age.
“I shared two nuggets of wisdom that I learned along the way in my career. First, to figure out how they’re going to define their own success, because a lot of people use success in a very different way. Some people view success as waking up every day happy doing what they love; other people view success by their status. So, that kind of guides folks in their career journey,” Francis said.
Francis also mentioned that she told youth about the manner in which some successful professionals say, “Follow your heart.”
“Your heart has a funny way of leading you down the path where you are really supposed to be. And a lot of times you’ll hear noise along the way, or people telling you ‘No, that’s not the way to go,” Francis said.
She warned about putting your dreams to the side because somebody else cannot see what you see. Francis spent a 14-year-career with the federal government before landing a job at Georgetown University, teaching people returning from prison how to become entrepreneurs.
“So I was able to use my life as an example,” Francis said. “In the workshop that I tend to facilitate is more so a career exploration where I help the youth kind of open up their mind before they get ready to explore the aeronautical space of the airport,” Francis said.
Phillip Blackwell—a Baltimore City Recreation and Parks recreation center director for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center—chaperoned kids to participate in BWI Marshall Airport’s Summer Youth Initiative throughout the week. It was his fourth time taking youth.
Blackwell felt that his group was impressed by hearing Francis because she was relatable and motivating. He said that Francis reiterated many things he tells the youth he works with at the recreation center.
“I had an exit interview, which is what I called it, at the end of this week, and I interviewed each kid individually,” Blackwell said. “They loved that part with the doctor because it kind of gave them confirmation that they were doing stuff right.