Crystal Chism: "Don't settle and don't count yourself out."
Crystal Chism is a city councilmember in DeSoto, Texas, an up-and-coming city in southwest Dallas County. Crystal was not steeped in political experience before she dived headfirst into public service. Rather, Crystal’s life experiences, like serving in the military or fighting against police brutality, gave her everything she needed to run for office. Now, Crystal is on a mission to show women their potential.
Crystal is a native of Dallas, Texas—born and raised. Growing up, Crystal went without resources other communities in the area had. For example, Crystal’s mother was a single parent until she was 14 years old who, without access to after school programs, relied on Crystal’s grandmother to care for Crystal. Without a livable minimum wage, Crystal’s mother would work multiple jobs including at a Williams Chicken to pay for rent. Basic aspects a quality livelihood like childcare, livable wages, or homeownership sparked Crystal’s interest in advocating for herself and her community.
Crystal graduated from Skyline High School, the country’s first magnet school and one of Dallas Independent School District’s largest campuses. When she wasn’t in school, Crystal was working a part-time job at her local Minyard’s and attending church each Sunday. In fact, church is where Crystal met her first role model: Opal Matthews, the first lady of the church. Opal was graceful but relatable and in tune with the community; people listened to her advice. Opal reminded Crystal of her own mother. “There was something about her that I just—I truly admired.”
Though Crystal did not grow up in an overtly political environment, her life experiences drew her to local politics. During her senior year in high school, Crystal enlisted in the military and served over 10 years in both active and reserve duty for the United States Army. She is a combat war veteran, serving in two deployments to Southwest Asia (Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq) in support of Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Crystal credits her time in the military as experience leading her to selfless service. Crystal went on to serve her community as a volunteer at the local elementary and high school, a neighborhood trash pick-up team, serving as a mentor teaching young girls about self-esteem and life skills with BeYoutifully Designed, 501c3 mentoring group. After a little over a year of living in DeSoto, she was appointed by the DeSoto City Council to the Domestic Violence Advisory Commission where she later would serve as the Vice Chair of the DeSoto Domestic Violence Advisory Commission, a publicly appointed role created to curb domestic violence. She also served on the city’s Citizen Police Advisory Committee, an appointment she accepted after she lost a family member while in City of Arlington Police Department’s custody. Each of these experiences pushed Crystal to run for DeSoto City Council. “There was no one I could think of to do the job I can do,” Crystal said.
Running for and serving in public office is a full-time job. In the past 15 months Crystal has been in office, she has spent nearly day after work or on the weekends meeting with residents, attending townhalls, and staying engaged with the community. Crystal’s husband of seven years had to adjust to the new schedule but, as a show of solidarity, he listens in to council meetings and texts her questions other residents may have. Crystal believes her residents benefit from constant accessibility to local decision makers like herself. “The connection is a beautiful thing. The council is working collectively to change the narrative of our community, changes that will be felt for years to come,” Crystal said.
In her first year, Crystal advocated along with her colleague Mayor Pro Tem Andre Byrd against the development of discount stores and smoke shops that she believes increases crime rates and prevents more useful development projects like grocery stores. She also advocated to raise the minimum wage for city employees. In addition to advocating for staffing in city services like Code Enforcement as well as having our municipal court establish programs for abusers in Misdemeanor C family violence cases. “Apart of the biggest responsibility being on the city council is to improve the quality of life of the citizens and I believe that starts with how our city services are performing”, says Crystal. One of Crystal’s greatest accomplishments was her advocacy against the use of a neighborhood street as a busy thoroughfare. In a DeSoto neighborhood, Crystal received complaints from residents that a central street was being used as a thoroughfare, increasing the traffic moving through the area. She pushed for three way and four way stops at intersections along this street along with additional signage, cross walk for the kids in the community and markers to slow traffic speed. Crystal’s transformation of this busy street inspired nearby communities to create similar programs to address speeding and through traffic.
Crystal believes women entering politics want to get their metaphorical, political “feet” wet first before running for office but serving others doesn’t come with many required qualifications other than a passion for people and a heart to serve. When asked what advice she had for the next generation of women+, Crystal poignantly said “Don’t think twice, just do it.” She went on to say “Women often doubt their potential…. Men will run for President or run for congress with absolutely no experience.” She closed her with this advice: “Don’t settle and don’t count yourself out.”