Unapologetically Herself

When Krystal (Tru) Edwards entered her freshman year as a Posse scholar at Union College, she never imagined that one of the defining moments in her college career would involve being stepped over by an unsympathetic student while peacefully staging a die-in to raise awareness for police brutality disproportionately affecting African Americans. The die-in, similar in design to a sit-in, consisted of a group of students peacefully laid out on the ground, lifeless, in front of the cafeteria to raise awareness and spark conversation. The demonstration brought together students, faculty, and administrators to learn about and discuss a topic that is uncomfortable, particularly on a predominantly white campus. It was in that coming together that Tru found her victory. Tru continues to be an active social justice warrior with even bigger dreams and goals ahead, but that was not the vision she had for herself when she was younger.

Tru grew up in Roxbury, MA with her twin sister, two older brothers, grandmother, and her mother. Despite being a shy, quiet young person with low self-esteem, Tru was passionate about basketball and loved spending time at the local community center. Tru was first introduced to Crossroads while in the seventh grade when she was asked to interview for the C5 Leaders program. Although she was a little unsure about what she was getting herself into, as she now reflects, “Crossroads quite literally changed my life.” She went on to say, “Before Crossroads I was a shell of myself, suffering from low self-esteem and depression. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Crossroads shifted that perspective by helping me find my inner strength and become the happy, optimistic person I am today.”

Being a young African American woman struggling with her sexuality, Tru spent a lot of adolescence trying to navigate the difficult path of self. After spending some time growing with the Crossroads Family, Tru felt empowered to be proud of and comfortable with her true self, identity, and skin. She also learned to speak up for her beliefs, even if few others agree.

When Tru received the Posse Scholarship to attend Union College she embarked on a journey that would diversify Union College—not just by her presence, but by sharing her unique point of view.

Even with this fresh, positive outlook on her life, Tru still struggled during her first couple of years at Union, both academically and socially. The transition from life in Roxbury to life in Schenectady came with a big culture shock. During particularly tough times, Tru would lean on her mother, her fellow Posse scholars, and mentor Stacie Raucci. She practiced self-care by seeking out on-campus counseling to talk about all that she was going through instead of keeping it bottled up inside. She also found solace, mentorship, guidance, and friendship in Gretchel Hathaway Tyson, the Dean of Diversity & Inclusion and a Posse Liaison. Tru was burning out, and she reached a point where she needed to decide whether she would give in and retreat or dig in and push forward.

She dug in.

Tru wanted to find her purpose on campus because she knew she had a purpose on this campus. Tru began getting involved in countless ways at Union and in the town of Schenectady, making a difference and an impact wherever she ended up. She was a walk-on to the varsity basketball team, a manager for the campus LGBTQ Iris House, a gospel choir participant, and the president of the Black Student Union.

Through her role with the Black Student Union, Tru played an instrumental role in organizing the die-in to raise awareness about police brutality, and she played a leading role in the design and implementation of Union’s Blackout Week. During Blackout Week, every day of the week highlighted a different campaign to raise awareness about African American culture, pride, and struggles that so many still face today.

The first day focused on a nonviolent campaign to challenge the microaggressions African Americans face every day, such as touching or making fun of hair. That was followed by Melanin Tuesday, where Tru and other activists celebrated their skin. The next day was focused on the question, “Do you go here?” Many black students on campus experienced being asked to show their school I.D. or some proof that they attended Union, while their white counterparts could roam freely. So, Tru and the other activists went around campus asking students and faculty members the question “Do you go here?” Many they talked with were offended by the assumption that they did not belong, which allowed for open and honest conversations that may not have been had otherwise. On Thursday, they set up a table to distribute different types of information related to modern African American struggles and ways to get involved. Blackout Week concluded by having students of color make a real effort to get to class early, sit in the front, and be actively engaged to challenge the stigma that students of color are uninterested or lazy.

Ultimately, Tru’s goal of making an impact on campus was fulfilled beyond what she could ever have imagined. The whole week was celebrated by dressing in black. Tru was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when she saw so many other students and faculty also wearing black in solidarity. Peers who she never thought she’d see at a Black Student Union meeting were showing their support and solidarity—they heard her message and stood with her. They came together, and that is what the change process is all about.

Tru’s focus on impacting her community and expressing her desire for human equality earned her the prestigious Josephine Daggett Award from Union. In recognition of Tru’s legacy, the administration stated, “Union is a better place for having this ‘catalyst for positive change’ among us. All of us who’ve had a chance to know and work with her are better for it. We take note. And, it is in recognition of who she is, the qualities she embodies, and all that she’s done to improve us and the world in which we all live, that we present Krystal (Tru) Edwards with the Josephine Daggett Prize.”

Tru has never allowed her struggles to define her. Instead, she uses those tough times as motivation to do more and be more than she ever thought possible. Much like one of her role models, Ella Baker, Tru strives to promote grassroots organizations, and democracy, and to help others find their voice and advocate for themselves and what they believe in. Tru was inspired by Baker’s unique ability to be able to connect with people of all types during the brutal era of segregation, and Tru wanted to carry on that legacy in today’s world.

Whether it is building grassroots organizations, opening a community center for all, or wanting to multiply Crossroads’ impact all over the world, Tru’s ultimate goal is to “make the world a safe and brave space for all.” One of Tru’s favorite quotes is by Abraham H. Maslow: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” Although her journey has had some tough moments, Tru continuously elects to step forward into growth and trailblaze a path for our next generation of leaders.

Crossroads strives to empower all participants to be active social justice advocates in their own communities. Our staff members lead by example, as they actively build the future they wish to see and lead the charge against the social injustices they feel most passionate about. For Tru, those issues are racial injustices, LGBTQ rights, and criminal justice reform; she actively looks for different ways of getting involved, taking action, and making a change. The overall goal of World Day of Social Justice is to contribute to the efforts of the international community in the areas of poverty eradication, promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equality, and justice for all.

Crossroads is extraordinarily proud that Tru is such an important part of the Crossroads Family, working as our Social-Emotional Learning Fellow to empower our next generation of young leaders and instill her passion for social justice and fighting for what you believe in. Tru has come full circle—C5 Leader, summer staff member, and now full-time Fellow. Witnessing her growth has been an honor, and we are incredibly inspired to see her mentor the next generation of leaders as she was once mentored herself.