Professional Women of Color Feature Two: Chrystal Denmark Porter
Meet Chrystal Denmark Porter
In this week’s spotlight I would like to introduce my readers to an incredibly dedicated role-model, student, teacher, and mother, Dr. Chrystal Porter (née Denmark). In high school I knew her as a kind, intelligent and driven person but I had no idea just how motivated and destined to do great things she was. Porter epitomizes “grit” and she reminds herself every day to “do hard things” realizing most people avoid challenging or painful situations. She adds that “anything truly of value must come from an experience or process that could push you physically, mentally, and emotionally to your limits; even though some things hurt…life is not all about pleasure or feeling good.”
Read her story and be inspired.
Growing up in Denver
Her parents moved to Denver after growing up in Texas during segregation in the early 1970s, finding professional opportunities there. She grew up in an up-and-coming predominantly Black community filled with individuals who were always “the first.” Examples include being neighbors with the first Black fire chief and the first Black president of the school board. “There was success happening all around me, so I knew nothing different.” Because Denver was a smaller city, people were interconnected and willing to share opportunities if asked. Denver was magical for her.
From a young age she had always aspired to pursue opportunities in what many would consider non-traditional jobs. In 8th grade she contemplated becoming a radio disc jockey, contacting the only urban radio station at that time, and within a week she was working at the station because the owner knew her dad. Then at age 15 she landed her first paying job as a summer camp counselor with the first iteration of YoungAmeritowne (Young Americans Bank). Later on, she was invited to sit on the Youth Advisory Board simply by writing a letter stating how important the bank had been to her. “I never thought that my age should prohibit me from pursuing entry into the industries I was interested”.
By high school, her focus had changed to one day becoming the commissioner of the NBA which meant getting a job with the Denver Nuggets. She contacted the organization to find out how to become one of the kids she had seen helping out before the games, not noticing that there were no girls. They denied her first request but instead of giving up, she asked her dad to purchase season tickets accompanying him when they picked out their seats. She made a plea with an account executive about the ball kid program which was luckily for her, a function of the sales department. The very next season she was invited to join as one of the first girls in the program. “As a ball girl I was able to interact with key executives within the organization and to get advice on where to go to college and what degrees I should pursue.” She remained employed with the Nuggets during the summers initially as an intern, and then later as a sales associate.
Two BAs and a Masters in four years!
Motivated by professional aspirations, she viewed college as part of the process and would take the maximum amount (up to 23 credit hours) each quarter resulting in the completion of two bachelor degrees in 3 years, and a masters in her last year. “Even today, some of my classmates did not realize that I had already graduated and was doing my masters when they were completing coursework for their senior year.”
As part of her masters, she was required to complete an internship and made her way to New York to get a job in the league office. She accepted an internship with the Women’s Sports Foundation in the inaugural season of the WNBA and after building credibility within the foundation, she landed an interview with the WNBA and was offered a position. This seemed to be the life that Porter wanted, but she knew that would mean giving up relationships, family and spending every moment in the aspiration of eventually becoming the commissioner. She trusted her intuition and declined the offer.
Because so much of her life had been working up to that moment, she had no idea what to do next and had to re-evaluate what her future would entail. She had been moving in a steady career direction in sports up to that point which led her to seek out working with people who had similar aspirations. This meant returning to school to earn her doctorate, teach sport management, and become director of a sport management program.
Specialist in Education (Ed.S) and Ph.D.
Despite having her Specialist in Education (Ed.S) degree, her original goal was to earn a doctorate. Returning to school, she was less sure of herself within this new narrative and her commitment level was not as strong . The doctoral process was so rigorous that she felt extremely stressed, depressed, and uncertain of when to engage in program politics.
After completing her doctoral coursework, she made it to the first of three defenses required to complete the doctorate when her committee informed her they would like her to start her research over. Devastated and humiliated, she believed the institution had done her a disservice letting her get so far without any warnings. She decided against restarting and instead submitted her work to an external journal with blind reviewers who accepted it for their publication. Although she had to give up the Ph.D. they took her work and gave her an Ed.S.
“My desire to earn that Ph.D. never waned for the few years following that experience. I eventually returned to school seeing the whole process through the second time around.” She earned her Ph.D. in Post-secondary and Adult Education and has since been teaching sport management at a variety of institutions and was chair of a program that had over 250 students. In her current role as Associate Vice President at a college in New England, she oversees 81 academic programs, including an up-and-coming graduate program that focuses on athletic administration.
Coping with Frustration
When met with frustration or adverse circumstances she looks at her ring engraved with “90-Seconds,” which is meant to remind her of a Tony Robbins saying in that it is okay to be upset, mad, defeated…but to let it go after 90 seconds. So as best as possible, after 90 seconds she begins reminding herself to recalibrate. In that same vein, she puts physical and mental health first knowing that she cannot be her best for others if is not at her own best. She works out 4-5 times a week and meets with counselors and career and life coaches to work out current situations, or establish workable plans for future aspirations. Every decision at this point somehow relates to her children and insists that she would not ask them to do anything more than what she has done or still does.
“Having the courage to change the narrative I have believed for myself for so long was extremely hard. But what it taught me, and what I now tell my students, is that you really can go for your dreams, but if you change your mind and want to do something else, that’s a real thing and it is totally possible to do. I also learned that gut checks are real and it doesn’t matter that you can’t articulate them to others, trust yourself to know what is best for you.”
Thank you again for tuning in. Come back soon for my next guest on Professional African American Women!