This article appeared in the Jan. 8, 2019, issue of the student newsletter.
When she was 11 years old, North Lake alumna Krystal Holliday moved into Buckner Children's Home in Dallas. While she was there, she wrote a letter that changed her life.
“There was this girl who was 17, and she had a problem with me. She was mean to me, but I liked her as a big sister,” Krystal said. “I was yearning for family. But she didn't like me, so I wrote her a letter expressing how I felt about her being a big sister.”
The next day, the girl Krystal had written to woke her at 4 o'clock in the morning. The girl was crying and telling her how much Krystal's letter meant to her and that nobody had ever said anything like that to her before.
The girl ran away the next day, and Krystal never saw her again. But the girl's reaction to Krystal's letter had a lifelong impact.
“That sparked something within me,” she said. “It was like, writing can move people, and it shocked me.”
Since then, Krystal has reverted to writing when things become overwhelming. Overwhelming circumstances have been a common theme in Krystal's life.
Krystal was taken away from her family when she was 11 after it was discovered someone close to her had abused her.
She doesn't have much of a relationship with her dad, and her mom has since died. But one of her earliest memories of her mom shaped the rest of her life regarding her passion for literary expression.
“Even though Mom had her shortcomings, she did something that I'm going to remember. She read to us,” Krystal said. “I remember being 5 years old and my mom reading me Stephen King. Not an author I suggest reading to a 5-year-old, but I gained from it. I remember being scared as hell and thinking, 'How can words put emotion in me like that? I didn't see anything, but I'm scared.'”
It's something that Krystal and her sister, who is a crime scene investigator for the Garland Police Department, still discuss. Things turned out well for the two of them. Krystal graduated from North Lake in 2015 and will graduate from the University of North Texas next May.
Krystal began her postsecondary education at Texas A&M. She lasted about a year and a half in College Station.
“I made many mistakes in university life,” she said, laughing. “So, I had to start from a better place and go to a junior college.”
Although she figured out she wasn't quite ready for a four-year university, she kept her mind active, making a stop at another DCCCD college between attending Texas A&M and North Lake.
“This is something I really like about myself: I never really stopped going to school,” she said. “I went to trade school for accounting and I finished it, but I didn't get the certifications. I would take classes here and there. I took classes at El Centro.”
What made the difference in Krystal succeeding at North Lake? Time and support.
“DCCCD is awesome. The TRiO program, people giving me opportunities and seeing potential in me and working with me,” she said. “I've learned now, when I see an opportunity or I see a glimmer of hope, I'm going through.”
Krystal seized that opportunity with the help of North Lake faculty advisor and economics professor Uzo Agulefo, whom Krystal called a mentor.
“She had a project about eradicating homelessness that she presented to the North Lake College president,” Uzo said. “So, the president essentially referred her to me, and then Krystal decided that she needed to learn more about economics. So she started taking my class.”
The project hit close to home for Krystal, who was homeless for about two months while she was enrolled at North Lake. She lived out of her car for those couple of months.
“It was interesting because I tried to hide it. I had a lot of pride. So I would come late to class. And I'm not gonna lie; I would overdress to try to compensate for what I was going through,” she said, laughing.
That homelessness project – called the Broken Butterfly Student Empowerment Project, which was based on a book of poetry she wrote and published called “Broken Butterflies" – was good enough to be taken to a national competition. The project even received funding.
“It was my first grant writing project. It was only a couple thousand dollars. It wasn't like it was a lot of money," she said, laughing. “I was proud of myself for securing a grant.”
The money raised was used to help someone whose situation was similar Krystal's.
“There was another young man we were working with after Krystal moved on to UNT. He didn't even have a car,” Uzo said. “And he would hang out, and the weather was getting cold. We were getting into the fall and winter. The money that we raised was given to that young man.”
Uzo's economics class was a struggle for Krystal, who was very open with Uzo about her difficulties with mastering economics. Despite that, Uzo said Krystal showed “remarkable improvement” by the time the class ended.
It all came to a head in 2015 when Krystal graduated with her Associate of Arts from North Lake.
“I didn't believe it! And now it feels surreal. It feels really surreal for me. Like, I can't believe it,” Krystal said. “What I went through with foster care and, simply put, I was kind of bad. I was so numb. I really didn't care about ambition. And to look at how ambitious I am now, I'm like, 'Who am I?' If I look from the eyes of that child, I could've never imagined.”
Krystal didn't take any time off between graduating from North Lake and starting at UNT.
“It's an excellent school, and I came because I heard about the PUSH program and their success rate,” she said. “The PUSH program is a student organization of foster child alums. And it's good for camaraderie. Since we don't have family, we seek it among ourselves.”
When Krystal walks across the stage next May, she will earn her bachelor's degree in English rhetoric with a technical communication expertise.
“Grant writing is a tool that I'm learning. And also, technical writing as far as writing curricula for youth or crafting a program,” she said. “And I'm learning things I can use for my entrepreneurial pursuits as well. All those tools can be used for my writing. Having my own brochures. Writing my books and stuff like that.”
She also has a YouTube channel of performance poetry and a website of creative writing. She will start a new YouTube series called “Fun facts about poets and poetry” for 2019. Her entrepreneurial pursuits include motivational speaking and creative writing workshops for at-risk youth.
Krystal is a self-published author with nearly half a dozen books of poetry. She may continue her education after she graduates from UNT. She eventually wants to support programs that help youth in Nigeria. What can't Krystal accomplish?
“If anything limits Krystal, it's Krystal,” Uzo said. “One thing she told me was, 'Where I come from, I've never really seen people like us where you are.' And she said, 'So for me to be able to come in and see people like you gives me hope.'
“She was caught in between a rock and a hard place with foster [care],” Uzo said. “As soon as she got out of the system, she fell between the cracks where she couldn't get support. So, when she said, 'I slept in my car,' talk about determination.”
With a spirit to succeed and a little help from others, it will be exciting to see where Krystal goes next.