As the director of the successful Trio Upward Bound program at the Boys and Girls Harbor, Crystal Floyd has personally helped Harlem children change their lives for the better. She’s been a friend, counselor, mother figure and guide. She’s quick with kindness but also ready to give a swift kick of reality when needed–anything to steer kids on to the path of success, whatever that might be. She continues to go above and beyond her job description as she has done for nearly 40 years.
The Boys and Girls Harbor was founded in 1937 as a summer camp for underprivileged kids. The center, located at 1 E. 104th Street in Manhattan, offers a full array of educational, cultural and social services, including after-school programs, day care, preschool and college prep. The Harbor’s goal is to prepare children for the future and help them reach their full potential. Floyd has been a particularly bright beacon of light, a fierce warrior and reluctant hero.
Despite her long history of service and scores of adoring kids, whose pictures and messages of affection cover the walls of her office, Floyd wonders what all the fuss is about–she’s simply doing what she loves.
“I’ve been with the Harbor since November of 1974. I had just graduated from college and was looking for a job. I ran into a friend who was starting a new program here. I was hired as an alcohol prevention trainer. We went into schools and talked about the dangers of alcohol. We took high school students to a camp that we had in East Hampton and we trained them to be peer counselors. We would teach them about the dangers of alcohol. They would, in turn, go back to school and run groups with their peers,” Floyd said.
“From there I worked as the director of the Right to Read program. We worked with students and adults. The oldest was 65 years old. Many of them wanted to go for their GED, but many of the programs at that time would not accept them because they were not scoring on a certain level. Our job was to bring them up so they could enter a GED program,” she said.
“From there I was in the professional health careers program, working with junior high school students to prepare them for different medical and health fields. Next was Trio Upward Bound and I’ve been here since 1982.
“When a student first comes in, they take a math and reading test so that we can assess their skills,” said Floyd. “They come after school and do homework or receive tutoring. We have an assistant principal who is the reading specialist. The English teacher also runs the SAT prep course on Saturdays. They help the students prepare for Regents, finals and homework and get them to understand what they are not getting in school.
“Many students can’t write. We want them to learn that before you can get out of high school and into college, you have to know the ins and outs of writing. We try to get them to begin to think analytically. That’s why it’s important to expose them to different experiences. They have all this desire and they know they have to move beyond this point. That’s what keeps me going, to see an individual move beyond a point where they were stuck,” she said.
Floyd has dealt with difficult issues and has helped her students overcome steep challenges.
“Each generation has their own individual issues. In the 1970s, it was a little different. A lot of students were caught up in the movement and were very involved with becoming a close community, working with each other and helping each other. It was a close-knit, extended family. This was the same in the 1980s. The group was a cohesive one. Of course, they had issues, but they dealt with them like a family.
“Things started changing in the ’90s. We had a number of students, and still do, who have parents who fell by the wayside because of crack and other issues. Students did not have the motivation to do what they wanted to do. They had aspirations but no motivation to work towards them. They did not feel that they could achieve their goals. They were just living day-to-day. It seemed that the students became more individualistic. You didn’t have that family, that tightness that there used to be years ago. That’s one thing that we’re trying to get back,” she said.
“We go on a retreat one weekend per year. The students can loosen up and get out of the city. They open up and begin to talk about issues, and that’s when the cohesiveness begins to develop. But then once they get back here, they’re in the real world, and it’s hard for them to hold on to that. I don’t have the answer, but we have to continue to work with them so that they can stand on their own two feet and trust themselves and actually achieve what they want.
“I try to get them to believe that I really do care. This is not about a job. This is my passion. This is what I love. I’d like to think that I get that across to them, that I care. It’s not just about caring, but that I’m willing to walk the walk with you,” she said.
Floyd has learned lessons of her own over the years.
“When I first entered this field, I used to scream and fuss. Then I said, wait a minute, I’m looking like I’m crazy. I need to calm this down and approach them in a different way. That’s more effective than just yelling and screaming,” said Floyd.
“If I can get them to do what I need them to do using different methods–like Malcolm said, by any means necessary–I’m going to do it. I’ve been told by parents that when a student has done something, that they were more afraid for me to find out than a parent or grandparent,” she said.
“I put a lot of expectations on students, and they know that when they don’t live up to those expectations, I personalize everything,” said Floyd. “I know you should be objective, but how can you be objective when you’re dealing with your kids? These are my kids. Once you get involved with a child’s life, they become part of you.
“Not all of my students have gone to college. It’s not for everyone. But to me, success is that individual becoming a productive citizen. I’m just as proud of the students who have not gone to college as those who have because of the individuals that they have become. They’ve become good people, individuals that you want to be around and talk to. It’s amazing when they come back as adults. It gives you a reason to keep on doing it.
“There will always be students who just ‘need.’ The word ‘harbor’ means safe place. They need a place where they can come and feel safe for a few hours,” said Floyd. “They know that people will be on their backs, but they are on their backs because they care and want them to want more for themselves.
“Students have said that the only time they get encouragement is when they come here. It’s not that the parents don’t want to give it, but they just don’t know how to give it, how to speak to them or which direction to push them.”
Trio Upward Bound is in danger of closing this coming December due to lack of funds. Their current goals are to raise $10,000 and to go out and find partners to support the program.
“I definitely feel optimistic. At one time I thought maybe it was time to move on if the program closes, but our alumni have stepped in and said, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to let this happen.’ That lifted my spirits. I’m hoping that we not only continue with what we’re doing but make it even better,” Floyd said.
Mark Graham, a former student, now heads up the technology department at the Harbor and calls himself Floyd’s ultimate cheerleader for her “relentless pursuit of excellence.”
“Everything that you didn’t get at home, Crystal provided it,” Graham said. “She created a bar and expected you to get over it. Crystal and her program are priceless. She is essential. That program is essential.
“When we were at camp, we had a thing called the Park Bench. She would come out and say, ‘I want you to take a look around and realize that this is the last time that this group will be together, so if you have something positive to say, say it.’ To this day, if I have something to say, I say it right then.”
Crystal Floyd and her Trio Upward Bound program are indeed priceless for the scores of children she has guided for nearly 40 years.
To donate to the Boys and Girls Harbor or get more information about it and the Trio Upward Bound program, call (212) 427-2244, ext. 455.