• Krystle was born and raised in MSP

  • She works with 1-st generation and low-income students to help them succeed in college

  • Her mom moved to MSP from Nigeria to pursue a career in nursing

  • She lives in Saint Paul

Meet Krystle

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My family is originally from Nigeria. My mother immigrated to the U.S. for school and settled in Minnesota, where she attended the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities School of Nursing. So, I was born and raised here in the state. I have lived in St. Paul my entire life. I went through the St. Paul Public Schools, went to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities for my undergraduate degree, did my Masters at the University of St. Thomas, and continue to work in the Twin Cities today.

I currently work for the University of Minnesota as a Grant Director for a federal TRIO program. Federal TRIO programs are college access programs that help first generation and low-income students prepare for college after they successfully complete high school, or support them as they earn their college degree. My program works with the Minneapolis and Duluth Public Schools. I’ve been with the University for a little over two years now. Prior to this, I did the same type of college access work at Century College in White Bear Lake and Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park.

I really have an affinity for the city of St. Paul, I actually just purchased my first home on the west side of the city. I’m really excited about that! I represented St. Paul as the Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows in 2015 and was the first black woman to be the Queen of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. So St. Paul is definitely in my core, in my heart, I love the city.

What are your favorite things about life in MSP?

What I really like about life in MSP is access to opportunity. I’ve been really lucky to find wonderful positions of employment that have been able to sustain me, but have also been very core to my values. I’ve seen that ring true for my sister, my mother and my friends. There is also “the city feel” and the ability to be in a metropolitan area. And while there are still challenges to overcome, this has felt like a place where I can grow, advance and thrive.

How could MSP improve?

We don’t do the best job of retaining folks, especially People of Color who come to MSP to work. I was born and raised in Minnesota and my family’s here, my mother is here, so there’s a foundation for me here. I do think that we are not welcoming to people who come here for opportunities and I think, well, what is it that we’re missing the mark on? Or why is it that folks feel like they can’t make connections? What could I, as someone who has lived in the Twin Cities her whole life, be doing to make people feel more welcome or to develop relationships or friendships? To help people establish themselves? That’s certainly something that we should be thinking very critically about.

What do you like to do for fun in MSP?

Especially during this time (of COVID-19), a lot of us have been appreciative of our ability to be outdoors in the Twin Cities. I’ve always loved going for walks around different neighborhoods, going to the lakes, hanging out and taking walks there with friends, or on my own. So, if there’s even a slight silver lining that has come out of this, it’s reconnecting with the outdoors in the Twin Cities. I live in the Cathedral Hill area of St. Paul, so I love going to local restaurants on Selby Ave. I love Grand Avenue. I love the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. I love going to the farmer’s market. I was a theater major in my undergrad, so I love going to see shows at the Guthrie Theatre or at smaller local theaters.

How are you able to find community in MSP?

I’ve been able to find community in the different organizations I’ve worked with or volunteered with. That’s where I was able to make connections and build friendships and relationships. I served in AmeriCorps for two years right after college with the Twin Cities nonprofit, College Possible. Many of my friendships that I still have today came from that experience and from doing that type of service work in the community.

I’ve just started volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve also been doing some volunteering with Open Arms with my sister. As I mentioned, I hear from people who have come to the cities that they feel like people here already have their friendship groups and they’re not willing to go outside that bubble. So, I’m trying to find ways to expand my network and maybe be in a position to help other folks feel more welcome. Through those organizations and through work and professional associations, is how I’ve established most of my current connections and friendships.

How did the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed impact you?

This has been really tough. Really, really difficult. I would talk to my mom and my sister a lot about this and just think, why did this feel so different? Because it’s not as if this hasn’t happened before. Maybe it’s a combination of it happening in the Twin Cities. Maybe it’s a combination of the fact that with COVID you don’t have to run around like you do in normal times. When you could say – I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got to do this. I gotta do that. We were all concentrated and able to internalize what was happening, and it’s been really tough.

I personally struggled a lot with it because I’d just think about people’s humanity. And the fact that regardless of the situation, this is a person. This is a person who deserves their humanity to be seen. As a woman of color, as a Black woman, how easy it is for somebody to not see my humanity, and not take the chance to consider that I’m trying to do good work in my community, that I’m trying to volunteer and I work hard. People can make judgments about me in a split second that could end or incredibly change my life. That was a really hard thing to overcome. How do you keep going if these situations can continue to happen and people can continue to try to justify them? Then what’s the point? I had to really reckon with that for myself.

In the work I do, I have to find a way to overcome those feelings, if I’m going to be impactful for the people that I work with or the youth that we serve. That was really hard. It still remains to be seen what the outcomes of this are. Sometimes when these things happen, the immediate outcomes are performative. It’s like, are we really going to talk systemically about why these things keep happening? Or are we  just going to institute a Diversity Task Force? That’s all great, but if we’re not getting to the core root of why this continues to happen systemically, then a Task Force is just a Task Force.

This felt different than the other times and not only because George Floyd happened here. Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, the COVID-19 pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color – especially the African American community – all these things happened in succession. All these things compounding at once was really tough. I don’t know if there’s a solution or if I have any big words of wisdom. This has brought to light the things within the community we have always known and now – will we, as a society, be bold enough to make the systemic changes that we need to make so that these things don’t happen as much or ever again in the future?

Have you been able to round the corner with these feelings?

I have turned a corner. What we’ve started to see happen in Minneapolis are the different people speaking up – people who had been quiet, people who I would not have expected to be willing to take on an allyship role – which is encouraging. But sometimes that happens very easily in the moment. Most of the time, people can say what is right and what is wrong. I think long term, it’s yet to be seen.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you?

I have a little bit of a unique perspective because my mom is a nurse. She works in an ICU unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. She’s been a Registered Nurse for about 40 years. It was really tough to see her go to work because she was often moved to the COVID units. My mother is an older Black woman and I thought, okay, if she gets this, what happens? Since I have a mother who works in healthcare, I care deeply about what the healthcare workers are going through. There are people dying who do not need to be dying, so saving and protecting people is, to me, the most important. It is really hard to see people suffering from either having experienced COVID or having lost people to COVID. That’s where it really hurts. It really hurts me because this doesn’t need to be happening. So let’s get this under control, so we can go back to normal.

But I don’t even want to go back to whatever normal was back in February (2020). I don’t want to go back there, because that wasn’t working. So what is the new normal? What can we be doing so that certain racial and ethnic groups are not more susceptible to things like this? Can this be a way for us to reset our priorities and values as a society?

But it’s been tough. I try to find the silver linings in things. I’m grateful for the amount of time I have been able to spend with my mom and my sister. I’m grateful for things that I have taken for granted, like living in a house that is safe and comfortable, and being able to work from home. I am just very, very thankful. It’s tough because you’re missing out on things that you wish you could have done, but I’m trying to err on the side of being grateful for the stability that I have been able to experience. Because I know that that’s not the case for so many people.

What advice would you give to someone considering a move to MSP?

I would start with having a good coat! (laughs) Jokes aside, try to get involved in the city, see what’s out there. It’s really easy to fall into a routine – you work and then you maybe go to the gym or do these certain set things. But take time to go to festivals and explore different neighborhoods and areas. Get involved with organizations like BE MSP or different groups that you have through your work or with neighborhood associations. I found volunteering to be a great way to be involved. So, if you’re interested in service, see what organizations are taking volunteers.

What is your call to action for somebody reading this?

From the stance of somebody who’s lived in Minnesota her whole life, my call to action to other native Minnesotans is to let people in and to be willing to develop and cultivate friendships with people who might be new. Even if it’s just, “Hey, if you ever want to hang out or explore different parts of the city on the weekend, let me know.” Be more open and welcoming, especially if you know somebody who is coming into your workplace or is a new neighbor. Maybe I’m taking a cue from my experience. As I’ve been slowly moving into my new home, people have been so wonderful, nice, welcoming, warm and inviting to me, and that’s been really great.

Be willing to extend warmth and friendship to somebody who’s new, so people can establish that foundation of support, especially when people move here. If they have people they can go to for advice or spend time with, that may increase their willingness and desire to stay.

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