12.27.2010

Year-End Interview with Crystal Washington Martin: "I just walked out on the job and felt so free"


(Blogger's Note: I have been an admirer from afar of the work of Houston's Crystal Washington Martin, who teaches entrepreneurs how to leverage image marketing and business networking to supercharge business growth. I've watched her in action and she is a phenomenal speaker and highly loved by her clients. Among her many feats this year, she was invited to speak in Accra, Ghana at the Woman 2.1 Summit in October. I spoke with her one-on-one for my year-end interviews to discuss how she got started in her field, her trip to the Motherland and more. This is Part 1 of 2)

Brother Jesse Muhammad (BJ): How did you get into the field you’re in?

Crystal Washington Martin (CM): It was divine intervention, as funny as that might sound. I was working in Corporate America as a revenue manager, which is actually a marketing position. I enjoyed my job, I loved the people that worked for me, but I really, really did not fit into the corporate environment. There were so many ethical battles that I was fighting. There was sexism, there was racism. I mean, it was the craziest stuff you’d ever see. Brother Jesse, one day I just remember praying during lunch. I just got into my car and prayed. I said, “God, please give me something that will make me of use, because what I am doing now is making this corporation millions of dollars”. Personally, I was responsible for millions of dollars. However, at the end of the day I was a cog in the wheel, and I was just making these really, really evil people money.
Brother Jesse, I lie to you not, as soon as the prayer left my lips, this vision just hit me for my marketing firm; the name, Black Market Exchange, doing speaking engagements and helping people with their businesses. It hit me like a lightning bolt. I was so taken aback that I actually then tried to negotiate with God. I was like, “Oooooh can I get something a little bit smaller?”

Well that didn’t come. I didn’t get anything smaller. That was the end of that conversation with God; I just got the vision. I registered the business name and started the website. However, I really just did enough to technically say I was being obedient. I wasn’t really working it. It was to the point where I was breaking even. It was making money but it was taking money.

On October 17, 2007, I went to work and something very unethical took place. Instead of being irritated, a peace came over me. Then a voice said, “It’s time to go”. I decided to just go with it, because I felt so much peace that I had never felt before. That voice told me it was time to go and don’t take anything with me. I just walked out on the job. I got home and I just felt so free. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew I was supposed to be working my business more, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. That is how I ended up doing what I am doing now. It’s not a story I tell often. I don’t know if everybody is ready for it, because I know it sounds wild! But that’s how I got my business.

(Crystal speaking in Accra, Ghana)
BJ: Let’s talk about this trip to Ghana because, of course, you had us all geeked up on Facebook. How did you get the invitation? What were your feelings when you first got invited to the conference?

CM: Well, I received the invitation in February. A gentleman, who I had never spoken to in my life, sent me the email. It read, “Hey I have been watching you on social media for a while. I’ve seen some of the videos you created, and I’ve seen the comments posted by people who have attended your lectures or speaking engagements.” He said, “I have this conference in Ghana that’s to empower women, and this will be the second year, and I want you to be a speaker.”

If I can be really honest with you, my initial thought process was “Whomp, whomp, whomp, how much money do you want me to wire you?” You know that’s what I was thinking, because it was so bizarre. It’s not that I don’t get speaking engagements that way. However to have somebody invite me to Ghana, that is something I have always wanted to do. I told him "thank you for considering me, let’s go ahead and take this off of Facebook, here is my email address." I asked him to send me a list of different things that I would need to review in order to accept it. He sent all of them. When I researched it, it checked out. That’s how I got that initial request.

BJ: So you head to Ghana for this 2010 Woman 2.1 Conference. Tell me about the experience.

CM: In terms of the conference itself, I had an opportunity to interact with hundreds of amazing people from Ghana. The women are just so inspired and empowered. It’s not that you don’t see that here in America, but their energy level is so much higher, despite the fact that they have so many more obstacles that they’re up against. Getting funding in Ghana is almost “mission impossible” if you’re from Ghana, which is the interesting thing. As a woman, there are some cultural issues that are still going on there. The governments aren’t very helpful to their people in regards to some of their practices. There’s a level of corruption that’s present at times. So to see these women who are so inspired and determined in spite of it all was amazing. The individuals who put the conference together were a group of young men in college. When would you see that here (in America)--a bunch of young men in college empowering women for their country? Benjamin was the person who created it. He’s the owner of Infusion Motivate, and this conference was his vision. When I asked him, “Why would a young college man want to put together this conference to empower women”, he told me his story.
(WOMAN 2.1 Summit organizers Hans-Peter Nkansah and Anthony Shaw with Crystal)
He’s the son of a chief and his father has several wives. The chief is poor, however, due to their customs, even if you don’t have a lot of money, the more wives the higher the status symbol. His father has 25 children. Benjamin grew up not having very much, yet his mother always motivated him to do more for himself in spite of what he saw. I believe Benjamin is child number 17, and he’s the first one to go to college, all on scholarship because his mother helped to motivate him. His whole view is when you empower a man you’re empowering an individual, but when you empower a woman you empower a nation. That’s what inspired him to start this conference. It blew me away to be a part of that; to see what they’re doing there (in Ghana) and to see the difference they’re making in people’s lives. That was one level of my experience, the professional experience, and then meeting some of the major speakers.

(Students at Accra Polytech)
(Crystal Washington speaking with WOMAN 2.1 Summit attendee)
BJ: And what did you present at the conference?

CM: Two things. One of the topics I presented was “Social Media for Business” and the other was “Strategic Marketing to Take Your Business Global”. It’s similar to what I present here in America, but there is a different take on it because I’m not going to present the same network in Ghana. For instance, one of the networks I touched on was Ren-Ren, which is a Chinese social network. The reason why that is important is because they have a lot of Chinese doing business and bringing businesses to Ghana. I literally showed them how they could go on this Chinese (website) social network that is about as big as LinkedIN, with 70 million people, and interact with them even though they don’t speak Chinese. I gave them different tools they could use to translate the page and then translate their responses. It was a way to take it to another level and really help them apply all of this.

(Crystal on the set of Obaa Mo, show celebrating women)
(Crystal Washington on the set of The One Show, most watched talkshow in Ghana)
(Crystal addressing students at Accra Polytech)
BJ: Let’s talk about your cultural experience. I know you had to have visited some of the slave dungeons.

CM: It was a haunting experience, and haunting isn’t strong enough of a word. Due to the fear, the death, the evil and all of that within the walls, you don’t have to be amazingly sensitive to feel it when you get there. The despair, I mean, it was just so hard. I actually became physically ill. I had to just go to the ladies room for about 20 minutes, because I was so sick. Yet, it made me feel good to be there even though it was a hard experience. My husband wasn’t going with the tour group. Both he and I were processing it in our own way by ourselves. However, in the end, I felt like I had honored our ancestors.

(Elmina Castle- slave fort)
(Elmina Castle- slave fort)
The one thing that I think is important, personally, is the ability to empathize with people. I can’t always help people, but I can feel for them. In my funny little way I think that it’s a shame for someone to suffer and there’s no one to cry for them. That’s just me. When I was there it occurred to me that when all of these horrible things were happening to these people, when they were being murdered, when they were being raped, when they were being beaten and when they were being sold-- who was there to shed a tear for them? It may have been hundreds of years later I was able to contribute some level of empathy for what I could hardly conceive what they went through.

BJ: For any one of us, including myself, who have never taken that trip to the Motherland, how important would that experience be?

CM: If I could give you a comparison, and I think this might ring for you personally, I didn’t grow up knowing my father, Brother Jesse. I didn’t even have a picture of him. However, I met him when I was 19 years old. I actually flew out to California to see him. It was a true ‘Antwone Fisher’ moment--it was definitely one of those experiences. We have developed a relationship since then. When we went to Africa, it was that same feeling of the first time I saw my father’s face. I understood myself better. It was instantaneous. It was like, “oh wow”! It was the exact same experience.

(Crystal presenting Benjamin Gregory Aggrey with certificate from U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee)
I think anybody that can go there needs to get there. I think Ghana is a really great place, because the people are so sweet. It’s not placing judgment on other areas of Africa, but I think that as Westerners we are very welcome there. No matter what, we cannot escape the fact that we are African American. People have different feelings, but in Ghana they are very much open.

Here’s something for you when you talk about culture, something that blew my mind. Do you know what our ancestors were actually sold for Brother Jesse?

BJ: What was it?

Stay Tuned for Part 2 with Crystal Washington Martin as she shares more about her trip to Ghana, marketing strategies, social media tactics and overcoming fear.

(Let Crystal help you take your business to the next level by providing sound marketing strategy. Contact Crystal today for more information: http://crystalwashington.com)

All photos courtesy of CJ Martin