Meet Cryss Campbell, Avalon’s newest board member


In February, Cryss Campbell will officially join our Board of Trustees.  I recently met with her to learn more.

Tell us about yourself.  Where do you live?

I’ve lived in Ypsilanti Township for the better part of 20 years. I live there with my husband and our two kids.  My oldest child is 9, and we call him “Young Wonder.”  My youngest is 5, and we call her “Hurricane.”  Both kids have earned their names!

What are your hobbies?  Fun facts about you?

I’m a reader. I’m addicted to books, and I’m addicted to typewriters from about 1949-1980 or so.  Just got a thing for those machines. I don’t know why.  My grandfather used to find them and give them to me, because he knew that I was a writer.  Now I collect typewriters. I just got one today in the mail.  A Smith-Corona Corsair. For me, it’s about finding a working machine that no other collector has found yet. Also, I love giraffes.  Just because they’re cool.  They’re tall and gangly and awkward – like me.

Where do you work?

I’m the Communication and Program Manager for the County’s Racial Equity Office.  The Racial Equity Officer (Alize Asbury-Payne, my supervisor) sets the strategy and I operationalize it.

Right now, that means I work on things like: COVID 19-response, equitable recommendations regarding ARP (American Rescue Plan) dollars, community programming, mask distribution, a communication plan and strategy for the Equity Office. There are also committees and commissions we participate in.  Out of our office we host the Communities of Color Task Force, which was originally patterned after the Governor’s COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force.  Ours is a little less policy-driven and more of an information-sharing space for leaders of color from all over the County. There’s also the Equity Liaisons Group, which I developed and kicked off.  It’s an intentionally light and celebratory shared learning space for County employees.  We also work with all the other County departments. For example, we’re doing County-wide equity assessments for 26 different departments.

We’re also hosting a U of M Ginsberg Fellow who’s working with us to do some exploratory reparations work. She’s doing some research for us as we move through a two-year exploratory process. I’m happy to share more about this once we’re farther along in the process.

We’re involved in climate action planning for the County, making sure that we hear voices of citizens who are not usually at the table when these climate conversations are had. However, they tend to suffer disproportionately as a result of climate events. Or have long-term health disparities as a result of the physical planning that we do. So those folks need to be at the table, and their expertise and voices need to be listened to.

How did you first learn about Avalon?

Who doesn’t know about Avalon? I first came here to go to college at Eastern, and then I graduated. At that time, it was about figuring out where I could afford to live.   I was looking for housing in Ann Arbor, and I figured out early on I could not live in Ann Arbor. That was the first I heard about Avalon. I heard that they had affordable homes, but not for me.  I just wasn’t their target audience.

What led you to get involved with Avalon? Join the board?

Alex Thomas (Avalon board member) is who brought me to Avalon.  He always spoke very highly of Avalon and spoke of the work that you’re doing.  When he first asked me about joining the board, I was teaching for EMU and working for Ypsi Township government, and I just did not have the capacity to serve on a board.  But he kept talking about it, kept bringing it up, kept the door cracked for me. I’ve got more time now, my kids are older, I’m working one job. I have more space and time to devote to being on the board. 

Also, when I was doing my own research and my own reading, I came across Veronica (Avalon tenant)’s story on Avalon’s website. I knew that I knew her name.  And when I saw her picture, I realized, she works in that other department at the County!  But her story is just so powerful.  It’s such an impactful story. It’s exactly the why and the how (of supportive housing).

Over the years, working for EMU and working for Ypsilanti Township government, you hear a lot about housing. And when I went to work for the County, I talked to a lot of people.  They told me to learn everything I could about housing.  Because housing is so scarce here, and so unaffordable here. We need creative, out of the box ways and equitable ways to solve our housing problems. I talked to everyone I could, also to learn how I could help, first in my role as the community engagement coordinator for the Township, and then as racial equity manager for the County.  We’re often asking – what can we do?  How can we make housing more equitable, more affordable and accessible?  And Avalon comes up in every single one of those conversations.

What are you most looking forward to as an Avalon board member? What are you excited about in this role?

Learning about how Avalon operates.  Yes, it’s a nonprofit, but it seems more complicated than others that only offer services, for example.  It just seems way more layered, way more intersectional than a lot of other organizations.  I’m looking forward to going out and meeting folks.  I’m a communicator, and I’m looking forward to serving on the Fund Development Committee.  Planning events and fundraising is a skill, and I’m really hoping that the skillset that I have can contribute to what you all are already doing.

I’m really excited about the about the idea of Avalon expanding into eastern Washtenaw (County). There’s a building on Washington Street that Avalon is in the process of developing. I’m excited to see what happens with that property. We know that Ypsilanti also has an affordable housing issue.  We also have a homelessness issue. I’m excited that Avalon’s services and housing might be available in Ypsilanti or Ypsilanti Township as well.

– Marcia Luke-van Dijk

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