Crystal Henry-Smith
Transforming the Community, Fueled by Faith

“You can’t complain when you aren’t doing anything.”

Crystal Henry-Smith exudes personality and positivity. When I caught up with her one afternoon, she was getting continuous texts from the girls in her Sisters Save Sisters group. They were going shopping that afternoon as a reward for going to class, staying focused and getting good grades. Crystal began this program at John Marshall High School but has since expanded it to Overland Elementary School. The rules for participation are simple: Represent yourself, Miss Crystal, your school and Sisters Save Sisters in a positive way. Group sessions are focused on girl talk, life skills, friendship, accountability, trust, transition into middle school and much more. The group was founded when Crystal prayed, asking what she could do to help the kids in our community. Crystal’s faith is the foundation of who she is and how she shows up in the world. This group is one manifestation of that faith.

Crystal currently works with Andre Crockett, founder of Barbershop Social Services as the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) liaison with Rochester Public Schools. She is an active member of the Community Engagement Response Team (C.E.R.T.), co-founded by her nephew Bud Whitehorn in response to the murder of Todd Banks Jr. in downtown Rochester in 2021. When Bud called to tell her she was needed downtown, she protested that she wasn’t a night owl anymore. She laughingly told him, “At my age, anything after 12 a.m. and I need to be in bed. I am going to be like Cinderella clicking my heels at midnight.” The first night she went, she was overwhelmed by the positivity and community and accidentally stayed until after 2 a.m. That night she saw many John Marshall students with whom she had worked previously. They thanked her for pushing them and guiding them to graduate. She went back the next week and is an active participant still. 

“Your life is like a tree; you have to keep watering the tree so it can grow.”

Crystal’s life really is like a tree with many branches. She has six adult kids, 27 grandkids and one great-grandbaby who is her pride and joy. She proudly shares that she has over 100 family members in Rochester. Crystal is the oldest and serves to root the family. 

She moved to Rochester at the age of 24 to join her older brother (since deceased) who already lived here. She is originally from Chicago but has lived in Rochester for 34 years. The initial move here wasn’t easy. Crystal explains that there was only one Black church here when she moved to Rochester. The year before her move, her childhood boyfriend and father to her kids at that time was killed. At the age of 23 she was a widow raising four kids under the age of four, traumatized by the loss of her childhood love and trying to survive in a new city with limited resources and no knowledge of how to find help.

“I don’t want anyone to walk in the shoes I had to. 

I want to make the path easier for everyone.”

Crystal describes the next period of her life as “living the fast life.” She moved away from her faith and got into some trouble that resulted in her being incarcerated. While her mother was able to care for her children during that time, it was a difficult time for everyone. She knew she had done something wrong and needed to accept the consequences. She knew it was God’s will but asked God to prepare her for the journey to prison. While in prison, she shared space with a Christian woman who helped her to be strong in her faith until she was able to return home to her family. “She was very wise. We studied, prayed and ate together. God sent me an angel. She helped me stay grounded on that journey.” She also met other Christians and kept herself surrounded by people of faith, going to every church service that was available. “I had to keep my spirituality in order and make sure that I would be ok when I came back home.” She came home committed to “live the community life.” 

“The F word, felony, makes you think you can’t accomplish anything in the world.”

Upon arriving home, Crystal had a difficult time finding a job. During her time in prison, her Certified Nursing Assistant license had expired and the chances of renewal with a felony record were slim. However, several people believed in her and gave her a chance. She called Re-Entry (now Next Chapter) to look for resources to help pay mortgage and other expenses. While they didn’t pay rent for people as a part of their services, Andy Kline, the Re-Entry director, offered to hire her to organize his office. Then she met a girl at a Bible study who told her about CNS Health Care. She and her baby sister both went to apply and got jobs. However, she needed to get recertified to continue her work as a CNA. While she was waiting and hoping for renewal of her CNA license, she worked at Mayo Civic Center as a custodian. Every Friday for two months, Alice Syderson from CNS called to urge Crystal to push for her CNA recertification, and in turn, Crystal called the State to ask if it had been approved. Miraculously, the State reinstated her license despite the felony record. Upon hearing the good news, her friend and mentor Alice told her she would see her at 6 a.m. not even 24 hours after her license was reinstated. She worked for CNS for 18 years.

“Never give up. If you are a Christian, faith without work is dead. Keep going.”

Crystal and her nephew Bud founded Hustlers Anonymous in Rochester in 2018 so that people could get support leaving the “fast life” and moving into the “community life.” They meet weekly and all are welcome. More information about meetings can be found on their Facebook page, Hustlers Anonymous Rochester.

Crystal believes that she is the product of transformation fueled by her faith. She wants to shine her light so that others who might feel down or hopeless or are struggling can see the way. Her photo for this magazine was taken in front of her church, Rochester Community Baptist Church where Pastor Barlow and other have supported her unconditionally. She said that was significant to her because, “After my transformation, I am able to walk through the front door and give people the advocacy they need that I didn’t have when I was on the inside.” ::

By Terri Allred    

Photography by AB-Photography.us LLC

About Author

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When Terri moved to Rochester 13 years ago, she looked to Rochester Women magazine to find connections. Because she works as a nonprofit consultant and coach, helping women find balance, connection and purpose, she knew how important those connections would be for her. Now, she looks forward to offering that same opportunity for connection to others in our community through her work at Rochester Women Magazine. When she is not working, she enjoys looking for seashells, dancing and snuggling her dogs.

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