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Current Position: School Principal of William D. Kelley Elementary School and Founder of Empowering Single Moms, Inc.
On a rainy Monday morning at William D. Kelley Elementary School, the school’s principal, Crystal Edwards, EdD ’20, is getting things done.
She is wiping tears from a student’s face, looking over another student’s file with a colleague, and no doubt thinking about what she has planned next for her nonprofit Empowering Single Mothers meeting, all while bouncing on an exercise ball in four-inch heels. This is all in a day’s work for Dr. Edwards, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Let somebody else be first. I’m in the back, helping people. I don’t want any part of being first. Humanity is suffering because we just want to be first,” Dr. Edwards said. “We just want to knock somebody else to the side. What happens when it’s you and no one comes to help?"
Dr. Edwards founded Empowering Single Moms, Inc. in 2015 as a direct response to the experiences she endured raising kids as a single mother. As an educator, Dr. Edwards’ goal through the nonprofit is “to educate, house and restore single mothers receiving federal assistance by conducting self-sufficiency training, conflict resolution, and educational programs.” She believes through financial, educational, and personal empowerment, the lives of single mothers can be transformed.
It’s no surprise that Dr. Edwards eventually found her way to Gwynedd Mercy University. After all, it was Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, who said “No work of charity can be more productive of good to society than the careful instruction of women.” Like Dr. Edwards, Catherine made it her life’s mission to empower women.
Dr. Edwards’ path to GMercyU was anything but straightforward, however.
In fact, she didn’t even want to be an educator. She wanted to be the next Oprah until her phone rang, and it was her former high school guidance counselor asking for a favor.
“I get a call as I am going through a divorce. [She] asks me to come down and teach. She said ‘you could teach these children.’ And I was like, who wants to do that? Who wants to teach children?,” Dr. Edwards said. “Once I got that job as a 12th grade English teacher, I never looked back.”
True to herself, Dr. Edwards wanted to make her impact more widespread, so after earning her Master of Education from Eastern University in 2003 with a newborn in her arms, she set her sights on a doctorate.
Over the next decade, she worked her way little by little towards her degree. She was nearly finished her coursework and was beginning to work on her dissertation when she realized the institution where she was earning her degree was not the welcoming and supportive place she deserved. After a much-needed break and advice from colleagues, she enrolled in GMercyU’s All But Dissertation Doctoral Degree Completion program.
She arrived at the welcome dinner skeptical and apprehensive, but was soon won over by the support and encouragement she received from the faculty to be herself and to share her story.
“If anyone’s feelings were hurt or dreams were shattered at other places like me, GMercyU is real. It’s not some walk in the park or easy. No, that’s not it,” Dr. Edwards said. “But it’s a place that takes you seriously.GMercyU is doing the real human work of healing people.”
At GMercyU, Dr. Edwards was able to take her years of experience and with the support of her faculty, she wrote and defended her dissertation titled, Money, Power, Respect: Black Women Narrate Their Experiences in Educational Leadership Positions Within an Urban School District.
“I had a newborn when I took my first class and when I finished, my son Zion was 16. Slow and steady wins the race. I always wanted to be the person who was 32 with a doctorate,” Dr. Edwards said. “But I was living what my research was about and what my nonprofit, which was born during that time, was about. Everything came full circle for me.”
Dr. Edwards’ next goal is to bring Empowering Single Moms, Inc. to the next level, with hopes of opening up a physical space for moms that can be used for workshops, daycare, and even housing.
She was recently featured on The Kelly Clarkson Show for her work with Empowering Single Moms, Inc. and appeared on CBS In The Morning with Gayle King.
One step closer to Oprah.
Learn more about Empowering Single Moms, Inc. by following @CrystalSaidThat or @esmomsinc and visit www.Empoweringsinglemomsinc.org.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of TODAY Magazine.