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I Leveraged My Divorce To Help Women Balance Healthy Eating With Being Single Moms

Instead of allowing food to be an enemy or crutch, it became an ally.

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Chef Crystal's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

So funny story: I once made a "meat substitution" when I first became Prince's private chef.

I had been cooking dinner for him and his band for several weeks, but one afternoon he requested me for a private dinner. I remember I made this delicious vegetarian meal for him and his guest, but it didn't go over well at all. I was asked to not only throw it in the trash, but to throw it in the trash outside! I was mortified.

It all worked out in the end because he ended up hiring me full-time after that. But this was one of the days where I learned that my triumphant game was unmatched.

I'm Chef Crystal, a single working mother of two who has proven that healthy eating can be achieved at all ages, no matter the circumstance. From the artist Prince, will.i.am, Jessica Simpson, Lucas Films, and more, I have used this same philosophy in my approach to educating others on sustainable eating.

I knew all my life that I wanted to be a chef. I cooked for all the neighborhood kids and was constantly trying new foods. My mom wanted us to have an opportunity to see the world the way she never did as a child, so we ate out at fancy restaurants all the time. She allowed us to travel with our friends and their families, so being exposed to different cultures growing up just elevated how I saw food. I remember her always telling me, "You can do anything you put your mind to," and that's exactly what I did. So, as you can imagine my house was a very positive environment.

I was always active in school, I played sports, and was a cheerleader. I had a large supportive family. My grandfather has 11 brothers and sisters, so I grew up going to fish frys, barbecues, and potlucks. He was the family chef until he passed the torch to me, and food was the common denominator at every function. I would say we had a typical black family with sprinkles of the United Nations as many of us married outside of our race. It created a foundation of acceptance and love because we all thrived as one family.

But like most of us, growing up in a black family that loves mac and cheese, collard greens, and fried chicken, I knew early on that I wanted to be a chef that focused on healthy cuisine that was palatable. I have had so many conversations with my grandfather (who was a cook in the army) on how to recreate foods that we loved as a kid with ingredients that aren't going to give us high blood pressure.

So, I decided to do something about it.

But before I could get there, life took a few unexpected turns. During the start of my career, I found myself in the middle of a divorce. Yet, instead of allowing food to be an enemy or crutch as we often do during tough times, it became an ally. I literally took a negative situation and turned it into a platform that expanded my career into an outlet for self-love. This platform is Chef's Guide To Divorce, where “eating your feelings" never tasted so good.

After all, I couldn't let divorce stop or distract me. And as I always say, nobody ever died of divorce...or at least that's what I keep telling myself. I'm a true believer in when life gets messy, you should get in the kitchen and get messier. We all have a natural ability to pivot built inside of us, it's up to us to tap into it. When life gives you lemons, go ahead and make that lemon drop martini, ladies.

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Through it all, I love that I've learned so much about myself in the process; about balancing my career with my kids. That's all I want for both myself, and other women. And I am a true advocate of trusting that everything will all work out.

As career moms, we put so much pressure on ourselves to get it right. I know for me that I give 100% every day, but that 100% looks different every day.

I have a commitment to sit and have dinner with my kids four times a week, and everyone in my life is aware of that. So, during that time, I am just not available. This way my kids feel seen, and they have my undivided attention. I turn off my phone from 7-9pm so that I am only focused on my kids. I also include them in my plans so that they can hold me to my words and I don't break promises. I recognized many years ago that when I was at work I get to be at work, and when I'm home I get to be at home. Most importantly, I made it a priority to educate and cook meals alongside my children with the fresh produce we've grown in our own backyard.

Courtesy of Chef Crystal

That's how I have triumphed, how I have found my peace of mind.

My self-care practice is to always say yes to happiness; to our happiness. And I know that creating happiness for myself, creates happiness for others. Learning yourself through adversity is key—a major key. Now I know, without a doubt, that I am a powerful, confident, joyful woman. Making the best of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of any obstacles.

And I can make a killer vegan stuffed bell pepper, too.

Crystal also heads numerous projects that promote healthy eating such as, @ChefCrystalzGuide (lifestyle Chef brand) and #CineSoul Dine (community film, music, and dinner series in partnership with Airbnb). To learn more about Crystal's Chef Guide to Divorce, visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram @ChefCrystalzWorld.

Feature image courtesy of Chef Crystal Blanchette

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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