Detrina Crawley Provides Incredible Hope for Richmond Youth
By Janna M. Hall
Statistics show that 1 in 3 black males will go to prison at least once in their lifetime. This heart-wrenching statistic is even more staggering than the 1 in 7 Latino males who’ll see the inside of a prison cell, and alarming when compared against the 1 in 17 white males. Not only are the statistics not in their favor, but the foundation and structure needed to ensure a positive outcome for our black men is tremendously lacking. The school-to-prison pipeline is all-too-real for our youth, and unfortunately, young black men aren’t afforded the guidance needed to defy odds. That foundation, structure, and guidance comes in the form of guardians who instill strong morals and values, teachers who invest in education, and outlets that allow self-expression and personal development. Too often, our young black men lack necessary components to lead a more fruitful life, making their nightmare of becoming a statistic more like a reality.
For Detrina Crawley, these harrowing statistics surrounding young black men required immediate attention. Talk is cheap; she’d seen enough troubled youth in her New York City neighborhoods, and knew she had to take action. At just 22 years old, Crawley landed a job in a residential treatment center working with mentally, emotionally, and physically challenged youth. It was there that she nurtured her passion for working with children. Even without formal training or education in the field, she went with the flow and did what felt right: helping young men make better decisions, change their life, and get back home to their families.
Her time spent there inspired her to get more involved and make an even bigger difference. After moving to Richmond, Virginia in pursuit of a better life, Crawley worked as a Corrections Officer for a juvenile correctional center. Unfortunately, what stood out the most was the lack of actually “investing” in youth; in fact, she found that there was no personal touch at all.
“I remember first walking in and seeing gates and barbed wire, and thought, This is jail,” she remembers. “I expected something different. As I talked to one officer, and she said, ‘They’re nothing but criminals; just treat them like criminals.’ I knew it was wrong to treat people without respect.”
Despite her cold introduction into the corrections world, Crawley reached the youth on a more personal level. She actually talked with them, completely rejecting the “treat them like criminals” advice she’d received early on. It wasn’t long before she wore the unofficial Counselor hat. She had a passion for actually helping youth, not policing them.
A move back to New York and second child later, Crawley returned to Richmond to advance her counseling career. She enrolled in Virginia State University, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Sociology by day and working full-time at a correctional facility by night. That persistence and dedication allowed her to graduate with her Bachelor’s degree in 2006, and she immediately sought out a position as a correctional facility Counselor, this time, in a more official capacity. But life led her to a group home. It was a position that she would’ve never imagined, but it ended up being exactly what she needed at the time.
“At first I didn’t think it was great for my career path, but it was really the best decision,” she explains. “I got to reach the youth before they entered the system. That’s what I loved about working there, and even later when I worked as an intensive in-home counselor. I was able to go into the homes, which was oftentimes tough. So many youths don’t realize just how much they need help. With intensive in-home counseling, the families I helped loved me coming into their home; we did important yet challenging work, but I always made it exciting.”
When Crawley noticed a listing for a Transitional Parole Officer position, she felt in her heart it was for her, despite not thinking she had official experience needed for that position. She submitted the application and called every day for three months to check its status. If they didn’t recognize anyone else, they recognized Crawley’s name. When they called, she made a promise to herself and the company that if she got the job, she’d be the absolute best at it. And she did. Today, her wall boasts countless certificates and awards, and she’s proud to report 100% compliance with the at-risk youth she serves.
What’s most remarkable about the work Crawley devotes her life to is that where society views those youth as murderers and gang members, she views them as people who need help and structure. And it’s that level of humanity that provides confidence that she’s safe, even when in the homes of these convicted felons.
Working with the state of Virginia, Crawley is both appalled and saddened by the amount of funding that has been cut from the City of Richmond in the past nine years. It’s this lack of investment, she believes, that keeps the school-to-prison pipeline a scary reality.
“There’s absolutely nothing for troubled kids to get involved in. They give you a few months of life skills coaching and monitoring, and that’s it.”
As it happens, though, one client discovered an outlet on his own, an outlet that helped beyond the months of coaching and monitoring— Richmond’s Ninth Dimension Boxing Circle. When he informed Crawley that the owner was willing to let him get involved with boxing, she immediately worried about the price. She spoke with the owner, Omar Aleem, and to her surprise he informed her that if kids didn’t have the money, he wouldn’t turn them away.
“I saw what was happening at the boxing gym, and I knew I needed my boys to be a part of it,” she says.
Her support of the Ninth Dimension Boxing Circle extended beyond bringing her clients there to box. Yes, it was an excellent outlet that allowed troubled youth to relieve pent-up stress and anger, but she wanted to support what incredible things the gym did for the community. While not the intention, Aleem’s gym served primarily at-risk youth who were on probation or parole. It was Crawley’s belief that if they could get to the kids before it got to that point, they could make a difference.
So, she started an online fundraiser, raising over $3,000 and garnering support for a facility that truly changes the lives of many children in the African American community.
“The gym is open 7 days a week, mostly all day,” says Crawley. “If they’re not in school, they’re usually working out there. To see the kids so excited about fighting—legally—and having an outlet was amazing to me. So I’m doing everything I can to raise more money so more kids can come.”
She continues to promote the online fundraiser through Compassionate Crowdfunding.
“I just know that if we can reach some of these kids, we can stop so many from getting killed or living without purpose or care for human life. I was put here to make a difference. It’s small, but I see that it works. And at the rate at which they’re kicking kids out of school, they don’t have much of a chance to be involved in anything else.”
Outside of boxing, the gym teaches true conflict resolution, placing emphasis on talking things out and developing discipline. Those principles are what makes Crawley hopeful that data is not destiny when it comes to young black men in America, specifically Richmond.
“If we can catch our youth early, put them in structured activities, provide an outlet and somebody to talk to, we can prevent them from living lives without direction. We can stop them from killing each other. We can even prevent them from not believing in themselves. But we have to reach them early.”