By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CINNAMINSON – For as long as she can remember, Crystal Charley has always been outspoken about the treatment of people and taking action on their behalf.
Going into her fifth year as president of the Southern Burlington County branch of the NAACP, she has used that natural talent to help people not only locally, but around the state as well. Her pro-active work has won her praise and recognition.
As chair of the upcoming NAACP New Jersey State Conference annual meeting, she hopes to continue that effort.
“Since my time in the NAACP began during my teenage years and through my upbringing, rights and not settling for mistreatment based on my race is something that has always been instilled in me,” Charley told FRNJ.com. “While I will not say having ended up in civil rights as I am today was purposeful, upon my arrival I quickly realized that it is exactly where I am supposed to be.”
Charley, 38, became the youngest branch president serving in the NAACP New Jersey State Conference in 2015 and is currently serving her third two-year term as president. She also is a Silver Life member of the national organization.
“When asked by our New Jersey State Conference NAACP President Richard T. Smith to become the convention chair, I actually jumped at the opportunity,” said Charley, who has been convention chair since 2017. “I was very excited to take this project on because afforded me the opportunity ‘shake things up a bit.’
“I had a vision of seeing the convention become more intergenerational to build a stronger and cohesive core of civil rights activist from our younger generation to our more ‘seasoned’ members. The last two years our annual state convention has been very successful. The feedback I have received over the last two years has been very positive,” she continued.
Charley said her goal was to make workshops and sessions relevant to where the civil rights movement is today along with exposing a new generation to people like Bobby Seale, founder of the Black Panther Party and Ilyassah Shabazz, daughter of Malcom X.
Charley earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from HBCU Delaware State University while getting a master’s degree in public administration from Strayer University.
During her reign as president, the Southern Burlington branch has been active on several fronts. Last August, it brought the community and numerous local law enforcement leaders together for a forum that examined racial profiling and other topics. The branch also held a candidate’s forum while Charley has addressed the need for more affordable housing in the county in the past.
For her work, the mostly white Evesham Township Council honored Charley with a proclamation in February. Evesham mayor Jaclyn Veasy praised Charley for her “pro-active approach” in working with communities.
“We value this organization and their leaders’ contributions to enrich our history and culture that unites us as a community,” she said at the meeting, according to Marlton Sun.
Charley said the recognition from Evesham was important to it demonstrated how positive “taking the first step” can be in resolving civil rights issues. She said it was the entire Southern Burlington branch that deserved credit for the award.
“My proactive approach demonstrated that in order to start to move forward barriers have to be broken,” Charley said. “There is now a rapport that did not exist, that is simply the first step, but an important step because it ushers in opportunity. It would be improper of me to say that award was solely for me or about just me, I share that achievement with our branch officers and members who serve along side of me. They too are the reason that recognition took place.”
She said the branch’s activities are representative of the saying, “It takes a village.”
“This Nigerian proverb conveys the African worldview that emphasizes the values of family relationships, parental care, self-sacrificing concern for others, sharing, and even hospitality,” Charley said. “Secondly, I fervently believe in the expectation of equality and equity for black people.
“Often times we let silence stifle our progress, meaning when you’re not talking with your legislators and your law enforcement, all of whom we are constituents, taxpayers, there is an obligation to maintain open lines of communications, so everyone is aware of what is expected of them. Silence is consent and I do not consent to being treated as less than,” she added.
Charley said she was inspired by the cause of African-American mothers and her own experience with childbirth to start Melanin and Motherhood, a blog that turned into a supportive community movement.
“What I quickly learned is that black woman often times have a very different and more difficult road to motherhood,” Charley said. “While I learned that these challenges were quite common, it seemed to not be spoken about enough in informal settings, like our ‘sister circle’ times. I am a survivor of preeclampsia and I am grateful to say that as far too many of my counterparts are not here to say the same.
“As I delved deeper in the topic I learned so much about the alarming rates of black maternal mortality and preterm birth for black women, Melanin and Motherhood has evolved into a community of women with some who have shared experiences, those who are interested in educating other women about this topic, including working with legislators, doulas and other advocates who working to close this disparity,” she added.
Charley said she developed her sense of speaking up for herself and others through her grandmother, Mary Etta Johnson, and mother Vivian M.J. Darkes, who were strong influences in her life.
“My grandmother, who recently passed away, was a no nonsense, stand up woman,” Charley said. “She experienced segregation first-hand, and by any means necessary, had no intentions of accepting that kind of treatment as she moved forward in life. She instilled that into her daughters and thanks to my mother, it was instilled in me as well.
“Pride, power and perseverance are a family tradition. Both my mother and grandmother were always serving the community and working hard for the betterment of our family and those around us. My parents have always been hard working and I was fortunate to see first-hand the rewarding feeling of having worked for and having what you want in life,” she added.
Charley said that being a role model for others, particularly young African-American women and girls, is important because black women have not been favorably looked upon through generations.
“Throughout history black women in this country have been marginalized as being best used for sexual gratification, when the reality is throughout history, we raised our families, we have persevered despite all of the odds being set against us, becoming leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs,” she said.
“We are still multitasking as mothers, sisters and daughters, while achieving great success. Being a role model for young African-American women and girls is very important because, there were women in my life who did it for me! I am a firm believer in giving back. I also know that positive imagery can have a lifelong impact and that is what I wish to exude. I like to measure my success by how I positively enrich the lives of others,” Charley continued.
Charley has worked alongside of her fiancé, Marcus Sibley, at the Southern Burlington branch and the state NAACP and sees herself involved with civil rights in the immediate future. “We work hard and that’s what we demonstrate for our daughter,” Charley said about her and Sibley. “Five years from now I see myself remaining very active in civil rights. I would love to have a more national platform ‘spread the word,’ highlighting areas of inequality and be at the table where solutions are made to correct them.”