Chrysta Wilson wants people to thrive.
Chrysta is founder of Wilson and Associates Coaching and Consulting is a Black-owned, woman-led firm that partners with purpose-driven leaders to advance racial justice, intersectional equity, and well-being to create conditions for people to thrive.
The 42-year-old Southern California resident leads Wilson and Associates Coaching and Consulting, guiding nonprofits, foundations,, corporations, and public agencies through engagement and systems-change work that helps them to leadsocial change better. Yet, even at a young age, Chrysta knew she was here to bring justice and fairness to the world.
“I didn’t know what the job was, but I knew my purpose was about addressing injustice,” Chrysta said. “I cannot be where (inequity) could exist. We’re no longer in legalized segregation, but I could see remnants of it (even as a child). And as I got older, I could see it in immigrant communities, and there were still bans on gay marriage and all this other identity-based harm – I knew I was called to do something. And I had to figure out my role in it, but that calling has always been loud and clear.”
How Chrysta approaches her work now was formed in part by her early childhood experiences. Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, her family’s presence in the area can be traced back to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Through DNA testing, she saw that her family has a long history in the area, connected to the early Enslaved Africans that lived in eastern North Carolina in the 1720s. Her family moved to Atlanta when she was 2, but Chrysta fondly remembers spending every summer and Christmas break back in Fayetteville, the hometown of both her parents.
“By the time I came along, my mother was a housewife and hadn’t worked outside of the home in a while,” Chrysta said of her mother, Melva,“After she and my dad divorced, she did what most women do: she took on multiple jobs to support her three kids. That’s also why in the summers, she would take us to Aunt Dia’si’s house back in Fayetteville because it was an opportunity to earn more money – without us around, she could take on more hours. And then there was a pivot for her– instead of service jobs, like store management, she got a job working with AT&T corporate, which would set her up for a trajectory for almost two decades in corporate leadership in a field very similar to what I do now.”
Melva initially had a career in social work, and Chrysta remembers she always had a heart for people. So starting her corporate career in human resources provided a way to offer that same care for people in a corporate space. Starting in the late 80s, there was an increased interest in corporate America around diversity, and Melva became one of AT&T’s early diversity managers. Melva often talked to a young Chrysta about what she was seeing and experiencing in the workplace.
“(In those conversations), I was hearing about the racism or sexism at work and experiencing it as early learning opportunities,” Chrysta said. “I had a conversation with a friend about this recently, and she said ‘I can’t believe your mom used to talk to you about such adult topics at such a young age.’ But what’s important to note is that being a Black kid that was raised in the Southeast in the 80s – that was all exposed to me anyway. My parents were raised during racial segregation in North Carolina, and my grandmother was a maid for white families who attempted to degrade her regularly. So hearing those stories from my mom’s job…I was already exposed to racial injustice at a young age, her stories were no more indoctrinating than my real life.”
But there was one particular story her mother shared that stood out to her. In the early 90s, AT&T produced an ad positioning them as a global communications company. It showed a globe with children on several continents, dressed in their traditional garb, speaking via telephone. All the countries were represented by l little kids, except Africa, which was represented by a gorilla.
“So my mom had a conversation with me and was like, look at this and tell me what you see. And the first thing I said was, ‘well, how come Africa has a monkey?’. She said, ‘Exactly. You’re 10, and you get it. Why don’t they get it?’”
Despite her understanding of injustice at such a young age, Chrysta remembers a lot of joy in her childhood. Even though her family members knew struggle, she recalls herRedmond clan as people who created space for laughter and good food – all of which would shape her personal and professional paths. Family reunions every July gave her a front-row seat to how much her family loved life and each other.
Chrysta and her mom moved to the Bay Area in Northern California when she was in high school, and even as a young person, she knew the disparities between the experiences of her new school and the ones that she had back in the Southeast seemed almost criminal, especially when she recalls field trips to Civil War reenactments within earshot of anti-Black comments with no concern about how the very few Black students in the class might feel.
“I had an awareness of race and racism at an age-appropriate level, so when I would have experiences like that at school, even if I didn’t have the language, I was aware,” Chrysta said. “My parents fortified me to be a Black kid knowing that I was going in to a school that may create conditions of harm for me. And luckily, because of that fortification, the harm that those environments can cause did not cause me harm, but it very well could have.”
Chrysta was a good student and excelled at speech and debate, which she credits to learning how to “communicate and disagree and in a way that doesn’t eviscerate people.” She always knew that she’d go to college, but she knew nothing about the requirements to apply. Her high school was comprised mainly of white, affluent students – she was one of the 20 or so non-white students.. While there was an attempt to acknowledge the racial homogeneity on campus with signs “Make Racism a Wasism”, racial bias existed down to the career center.
“I remember trying to figure out where to apply, and it turns out they were tracking me for junior colleges or state schools, which are fine, but they were tracking me for that without knowing me,” Chrysta said. “I remember my mom being so livid, and I didn’t have the context as to why. And she came to the school – and I remember she approached the guidance counselor– and my mom said, ‘you sit here’ to me, and then she went in that office and closed that door. I don’t know what she said to that lady, but the door opened up, and that lady, all of of a sudden, had a plan for applying to the 4-year Universities that I could and should apply to based on my GPA and extracurriculars. It seemed that I, the student tracked for community college, was all of a sudden University material. All after this talk with my mom.”
Suddenly Chrysta received guidance on how to get to new places that they were previously not guiding her towards.
When they got back in the car, Chrysta told her mother, ”that is not what happened when I met with this guidance counselor.” “And then my mom told me when she was a little girl – A black girl in a segregated school back in 1967 – Black girls were tracked for two kinds of post-high school opportunities – secretarial school was the main one. And my mom said, ‘I did not work this hard for you to get tracked as I did.’ I had never heard of her own racialized traumas around schooling and the lack of opportunities she has simply because of her race and gender, even though she was an A student. . That’s partly why she left North Carolina at 18 to head to New York for school, employee, and to have better opportunities outside of the still deeply racist South.”
Chrysta attended the University of Southern California and earned Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Community Development and a Masters Degree in Public Administration.
While in school, she found a youth development job working with teenage girls who lived in the disinvested areas near campus.m. Chrysta saw herself continuing in this career of community change as she was already doing the work, but her advisor insisted she continues her education by pursuing a graduate degree. After being accepted in a Masters program, , she worked on community inequity issues in Los Angeles within her fellowship with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2 years came and went, and when May graduation came, only two months’ worth of savings meant she needed to land a job by July 15 or would have to move home On July 13, she was offered a job she wished for working at the intersections of public policy, community engagement, and government systems transformation.
“This job was (focused on) people power: organizing people, training people,” Chrysta said. “It was working within the LA County government to change the 30-plus government agencies that touch our daily lives – how do you help them be more responsible and more equitable to address real racial disparities? It was also about creating programs with state and local funds to improve conditions in everyday people’s lives.”
Chrysta worked with residents to do community engagement, facilitating meetings with county departments and staging programming and events. She described it as “having a hand in the grassroots and a hand in the grass tops”. And the job was perfect – until it wasn’t. Her fierce independence, deep care for those she managed, and dissatisfaction with the inefficiency in her agency created tension between her and others who were not acting to do more to help the people who needed it most. She knew she needed to make a move, but it would be the loss of her mother and beloved aunt that would push her into her next chapter.
“Now, when I coach people, I talk about how it sometimes takes us getting sick or losing people close to us to activate us to ask some tough questions about what we want in our life,” Chrysta said. “Where do we want to spend our day? And is the job we currently have giving us the most fulfillment?”
“On paper, the job I had should have been the one, but it wasn’t. I got promoted…so many boxes got checked. But I had to tell the truth, and the truth was I had to go. So I started laying the foundation for two things: one was to open a bakery in LA, which was a legacy to my Aunt Dia who had passed. And then I felt I’d learned a lot about the intersection of the grassroots and grasstops to lead real change for equity, and I thought I could do this on my own as an organizational development consultant.”
So Chrysta left her job in February 2008. Just one month later, she began her consulting practice, and by July, her southern-style bakery, Kiss my Bundt, was born. For three years, Chrysta worked tirelessly to grow both businesses, working 15-hour days to give personal attention to each.
“It was a wild three years, but I was so energized because it was two things I didn’t think were possible to create,” Chrysta said. “No one in my family was an entrepreneur – the idea to work for yourself (seemed) impossible. I think that’s where the energy came from. I was run down after those three years, and I closed the shop because it was so hard. But I kept the consulting practice – that thrived.”
In March of 2023, Chrysta will celebrate 15 years as a social justice consultant and entrepreneur.
“How do we collectively create a world where people can thrive in their neighborhood or organization where they work And how do we eliminate identity-based harm? That’s the work that I do,” Chrysta said. “Whether you call it diversity and inclusion, racial justice and equity – all those are jargon-y words have changed over 20 years, but it’s all about how we right wrongs that are happening in our policies and our society and our workplaces.”
When Chrysta looks back on her life, she knows she’s blazed her trail, and the Universe and her ancestors helped paved the way. If she could tell her young self anything – the one who already knew she had a heart for fairness – she’d tell her: “Soak up these experiences because what you’re seeing, what you’re witnessing, what you’re feeling, is going to be valuable teaching moments for thousands of people – to make sure this doesn’t happen to any group ever again.”