Hidden Figure: Crissy Dorsey


Hidden Figure: Crissy Dorsey

Crystal: Who is Crissy Dorsey?

Crissy: When asked this question, my mind automatically goes to thoughts like, “Tell them all of your accomplishments.”  Everyone always has this profound and boastful list of their most prestigious awards and education.

Well, the fact is, I don’t have all of that. Crissy Dorsey is just a 34-year- old woman with a desire to help anyone in need of anything I can provide.  It may sound crazy to most people. Honestly, sometimes It sounds crazy to me!  All I can say is, from a very young age, I’ve always been a person that felt an unusual amount of compassion for individuals that can’t provide for themselves or their families. I’ve always had this compelling desire to help, even when my situation wasn’t much different from theirs. Today, I’m still the same person, I just choose to act on my desires.

Crystal: Can you give the audience a glimpse of your past and the journey to where you are now?

Crissy: Growing up in Atlanta, Ga., I didn’t quite have the normal upbringing as most of my peers. My mother was introduced to “Crack” Cocaine by my father when I was around two years old. My grandparents raised my brother and me. My grandmother passed away from a heart attack when I was 5 or 6 and my grandfather later passed from a bowel obstruction when I was 11. Leaving my brother and me to live with aunts, cousins or any other family member who would take us in.

 At this point, it seemed like my mother had been on drugs my entire life. We didn’t have the best clothing. Hand-me-downs and thrift stores were how we managed. I can even remember times when we didn’t have food. We felt like a burden to our family, but we had each other and that’s all we needed!

One day, I remember vividly, it snowed in Atlanta. I was young, so snow was very exciting and rare to see. Schools were closed and my brother and I were anxious to go out to play. Well, we did. That day changed my life forever. We took off out the door, picking up snow by the fistful! Throwing snowball after snowball. Running carelessly up and down the street of our grandparents’ home. When something lying in the street catches our attention. We were pretty far away, yet close enough to know something wasn’t right with what we were seeing.

We took a couple steps closer and we realized it was our mother lying face down in the snow, throat slashed and blood gushing from her head. Terrified, I ran to get help while my brother stayed by her side. My family called for an ambulance and they rushed her off to the hospital. My mother was in a coma and remained that way for 6 weeks. I remember hearing the doctors say that if it hadn’t been for the snow, she would have died.

The doctors said something else that day that set the entire course of my life and career. They told my family that my mom was HIV positive. I was only 10 years old and I had no clue what that meant. But according to the doctors and my family, my mother was dying and she was dying soon. At that moment, I started to hate life.

You see, the year before, my mother had given birth to a baby boy. Ryan was his name. Ryan was the sweetest baby I’d ever seen. He smiled and all I could do is smile back. I had never been a big sister before. Holding him made me happier than I’d ever been. It also seemed that Ryan had given my mother a reason to finally get clean. She was so proud to have him. I saw her trying hard to be a good mother. Watching her, I realized that I’d never seen my mother be a mother. I was proud of her until one day the phone rang… I remember my aunt answered and suddenly gasped for air. It was the police on the phone looking for my mom. They told us that Ryan had been in a house fire and suffered third degree burns on 80% of his body. Apparently, my mom had relapsed and left him at a stranger’s home for a couple days without returning to get him. A couple weeks passed. After fighting for his life, Ryan lost the battle at 9 months old. That was the first time my family made the news. I can’t tell you to this day where he’s buried. However, I do remember him being buried in a wooden box, completely nailed shut and I cried because couldn’t see his face. Only four people attended his funeral, including my mother, brother and me.

Anyway, back to that day at the hospital. Not only did we learn that mom was HIV positive, we also learned she was pregnant. All the doctors were saying that she’s dying. I’d just lost my brother and now I may lose my mom and possibly the new brother or sister. Life just wasn’t fair. It hated me and I hated it just as much! My mother awakened from her coma and gave birth to a healthy, HIV negative baby girl named Toby. Shortly after I met my sister, my mother relapsed. Once again, she left her baby with strangers. The police notified my family. After they refused to take Toby in, she was placed in state custody. I didn’t see her again until she was 3 years old. That’s actually around the time my mom decided to leave drugs alone for good. She started working and got an apartment. She’d been taking her medications regularly and wanted to take a shot at raising her 3 surviving children. She attended mandatory parenting and addiction classes. Eventually, she gained full custody of my sister. Things were finally looking up!

Now 15 years old, I finally had a chance to live with my mom. She did everything I imagined a mom should do. She cooked, cleaned, gave us chores and even punished us when we were disobedient. I’d never seen anyone so hard. My mom could do anything and I couldn’t have been more proud! During that time, I watched the stigma of HIV. I remember family dinners. My aunts would make my mother drink from the water hose if she was thirsty. She’d have to eat out of one bowl that became “Cheryl’s bowl”.  Cheryl’s bowl also was the common dog food bowl. My mother wasn’t allowed to enter the kitchen or use their restroom. Anything she touched or any place she sat would immediately be drenched in bleach the moment she left.  No one would touch her. Her own family treated her like a monster. Not only her, but my siblings and I too.

My mom became depressed and eventually turned to drugs again. She stopped taking her meds and soon after, AIDS took over. My mother passed away from complications from AIDS when I was 17 years old. Leaving my brother and me to raise a soon to be 6-year-old little sister. I learned a lot from my mother during the two years we lived together. She taught us how to survive off the little things we had. She taught me courage, determination and strength.  In addition to these valuable lessons, she taught me the importance of protecting myself sexually. Night after night, she’d call the three of us to her room to watch her take her meds, a total of 31 pills a day.

After the death of my mom, I wasn’t the same. I’d experienced so many disappointments, one after another. Year after year… I was broken. There I was, a 17-year-old girl; barely making it in school; crying myself to sleep; worried about how I was going to eat; and somedays where I’d sleep. I had so much pain and anger bottled up inside. Not even my closest friends knew what was going on with me. I was ashamed.

I began to wonder how many other people were going through similar situations. There had to be others! Life couldn’t just hate me and me alone. I started to watch and notice the pain in others. I paid attention to people that walked with their heads down and barely smiled, because that’s what I did. I’d make an effort to speak and hug homeless people to let them know they were still human and not completely forgotten about. I began to take left over food to people who lived on the corner of our home or who hung out at the local store or bus stops. I fell in love with the feeling that overwhelmed me whenever I made someone smile or when they’d hug me and tell me “God Bless you”.  I was hooked! I took a special interest in women and children, I haven’t looked back since.

Crystal: What does philanthropy mean to you?

Crissy: Philanthropy, in my eyes, is simply identifying a need and having the courage to fill it no matter what it cost. If you care about people, you’d do what you can to make someone’s life better.

Crystal: What is your prayer for the people you serve?

Crissy: I pray that the people I serve know they are not forgotten. I pray they know that people like me focus their entire life to discover ways to help enhance or improve theirs.

I pray they find the strength to push through their current circumstances and not allow unfortunate situations to defeat them. Finally, I pray that once they do make it out, they reach back and grab someone else.

Crystal: What is Our Story Inc.?

Crissy: Our Story, Inc. is a nonprofit organization for minority families affected by HIV/AIDS. The unique thing about this organization is, I am specifically targeting African American/Latino men/women actively living with HIV/AIDS, their negative status family members and their children. Most nonprofits put emphasis on prevention. We put an emphasis on survival and purposeful living. 

Our Mission Statement:

Creating healthy and positive life outcomes for minority children and teens affected by HIV/AIDS, by focusing on life skills, educational support, social and psychological development.

My organization directs focus on educating mothers/fathers with HIV/AIDS about the disease, treatment and transmission. We discuss ways to effectively communicate about the disease to their children and other family members, prevention tips and what to expect after death. It is my belief, that providing resources to this particular demographic will help bring awareness to the community.

Our Story, Inc. offers support groups including:  social and psychological development, emotional support, clothing/food services, and prevention/ transmission education. In addition, we also offer workforce readiness workshops, tutoring, mentoring, life skills, educational scholarships, childcare services, and camp services.

Crystal: What is Dining with Dignity?

Crissy: DWD is a sister company to Our Story, Inc., which was also founded by me. With DWD, a group of friends and our kids create the ultimate dining experience for individuals and families in need. Everything from signing in their name with the greeter to being seated by the wait staff. There are even times when they experience wait times when the tables are full. We select a location, set up chairs, tables covered with linens and decorated with place settings, and a menu.  We offer free, three course meals to anyone who needs it. 

All food is home cooked and prepared by me. My best friend, Ebonie Cleaves and I usually partner a lot on each other’s community service projects. Her son Brian (age 10) is the director of wait staff for DWD. He does a great job with directing us and being accurate with how many people, plates and refills are needed in our dining area.

Crystal: How did you come up with the idea for Dining with Dignity?

Crissy: DWD stemmed from watching my mother being an outcast when she lived on the streets. It also came from myself and my siblings not having food to eat. God blessed me to overcome my circumstances and I understood what it felt like to be hungry. I wanted to give back, but not in a way that was common. So I got creative!

Crystal: Typically, how many people do you serve?

Crissy: Since we’ve started DWD last year, we have fed and estimated 300 homeless men, women and children. And 4 dogs. LOL

Crystal: What’s been your best giving experience?

Crissy: My best giving experience comes from the first time I fed people under DWD. We fed 62 people that day and one guy stood out. We kept in contact and I began to develop a friendship with him. He was my age with a mental disability. His mother took care of him until she passed away earlier that year. He lived on the street because he had no relatives in the area.  I started to drop food off to him daily and later found out what skills and hobbies he possessed. Through a course of events, including creating a resume and teaching him interview tips, he now has a job and an apartment. He currently lives on his own and provides for himself. He’s now one of my closest friends and helps volunteer at other DWD events.

Crystal: Why do these causes mean so much to you?

Crissy: These causes mean so much to me because I was once the person in need.

Crystal: How did the movie impact your life?

Crissy: The movie Hidden Figures was inspiring to me on so many different levels. I was always a person to do things in silent and never wanted recognition for them. I believe when you do things from the heart, God is the only person that needs to see. The movie made me reconsider. I now believe that telling my story and shedding light on my community service can somehow encourage others to channel their inner talents and follow their hearts. Who knows, maybe we’ll change the world.

Crystal: This blog is about hidden figures in our communities. How does it feel to know your peers consider you a hidden figure?

Crissy: I’m honored and humbled to know that my peers see me in a positive light.

Crystal: Who is your Hidden Figure/mentor?

Crissy: Ebonie Cleaves. She’s a friend, partner in service, advisor, and confidant.

Crystal: What is your favorite quote?

Crissy: “Don’t allow life to stop you from living.” – Crissy

Crystal: What is your favorite book?

Crissy: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Dr. Maya Angelou

Crystal: What words of inspiration can you leave the audience?

Crissy: We take so many things for granted: food, water, shelter, clothing, even our parents. No matter your circumstances, no matter your finances, there is always someone praying to be in your position.  Always be grateful.  -Crissy

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