Article curated and written by Dana “Truly Inspired” Martin
Kristalyn Billips is a junior Marketing major, sports administration minor from South Jamaica, NY. She currently attends Howard University and plans to continue her studies at a top graduate university upon graduation to receive her Masters of Science in Marketing or work full time in the entertainment, sports or fashion industry. Since arriving at Howard U in 2018, Kristalyn has held many positions on campus such as an event host for the Undergraduate Student Assembly, Director of Community Service for School of Business Student Council, Vice President of the NY State Club, etc.! She is also a member of Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. and Beta Gamma Sigma International Business Honor Society. Over the last few years, Kristalyn has worked for the Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards, Fusion Risk Management, Excel Sports Management and more. She is known to be a servant leader as she has participated in community service since the 4th grade and founded her own non-profit organization, the Mason Education Initiative. Through her efforts with her non-profit, she aims to help others find their passions and discover what they love.
Who is Kristalyn and what makes her a powerhouse?
I am nothing if not a child of God. I grew up surrounded by some of the most prayerful and powerful women I’ve ever met so when I had an opportunity to come into my own as a woman, and as a Black woman specifically, I had clear cut examples of how to manoeuvre through this world. Knowing that someone is always praying, always taking the time to tell me that they’re proud of how far I’ve come, it pushes me to do more. I don’t know if I’m a powerhouse as much as I am a vessel but I hope that in the end, I hope that I inspire others to live their dreams. Never be afraid of the dark and uncomfortable because as long as you trust in God, there will eventually be light.
As a senior at Howard, what has been some of your biggest lessons and how have you used them to help you in what will be your next steps?
First, Howard University is not easy and if they tell you it is, don’t believe them. It will test you and stretch you in ways you could’ve never imagined. Despite sometimes feeling like the person I portray is not who I am, I’ve learned that all of that pressure can easily turn into praise if you work hard to set your own expectations of who you are. Professors push you because they see your potential. Friends challenge you because they know your worth. Being at Howard taught me that your community is what you make it but it is at its strongest when you fill it with people of substance. I’ve made lifelong friends here. People you’ll see at my wedding, baby showers, graduation trip, they’re stuck with me for as long as I live. I’m forever grateful for them and for Howard U because now I’m able to step out into the world with the confidence necessary to make this 4 foot-ten frame have a 6’3 presence.
Tell us about your business ventures. How has being an HBCU student helped you throughout your business journey?
What has been one of the valuable lessons you learned?
Currently, I own a short-term leasing company, 1011 Homes, with a really good friend of mine, Jaylen Cromwell. We’re working to provide safe and affordable short-term housing to travelling nurses, young professionals and families with an emphasis on the female community. Additionally, I’ve been a professional DJ since I was 14 years old and I’ve worked in a variety of local venues and even played in Madison Square Garden during my senior year of high school.
Through it all, I’ve been able to really recognize my stance as an HBCU student. The confidence I’ve acquired, the eloquence behind my speech, it all stems from being pushed to a higher standard each and every day. At an HBCU, we’re told that we have to work ten times as hard to be just as good and they’re not wrong so I take pride in showing up and showing out every chance I get. No matter what may happen, your light will shine but the important thing is what you want it to shine on. If your voice adds some ferocity into a room, roar away. If your personality serves as a burst of energy anywhere you come in contact with, rooms in need of it will find you. Create your space and flourish in it because no one else can do what you do.
Tell us about your organization and why did you start it? What is the ultimate goal now and in the next 2-5 years?
It may sound crazy but for the first time in my whole life, I felt my grandmother speak through me that one day in Barbados. With my mom’s side of the family being from Jamaica and Barbados, it wasn’t uncommon to visit the birthplace of my late grandmother, Sandra J. Mason. It was January 2020, I had recently finished helping my brother apply for colleges and realized his pathway was much different from my own. It had some bumps and obstacles I wasn’t used to, however, it wasn’t impossible to accomplish. From there, I thought about how many students were probably in the same position as him but didn’t have the support system he had had. My mom and I were on a walk either to or from the beach and I just felt the urge to do something good. On that day, the Mason Education Initiative was born and I thank God every day for the work I plan to do through it. MEI works to provide young students in South Jamaica, Queens with the necessary tools, resources and opportunities to become their version of success in life whether that be school supplies, college readiness courses or trade classes, we’re here for them or at least, that’s the goal. Over the next 2-5 years I want to be able to partner with a local homeless shelter in my neighbourhood, provide students in my neighbourhood with extracurricular and academic scholarships as well working with a local elementary school to help align their students with what’s important to them. I would also like to donate to and renovate a library within a local elementary school or two to increase the physical resources they have. The plans I have for MEI are endless but in the end, I would like to donate to the Morgan State University School of Journalism through MEI to help create the Christina D. Cox Second-Chance Scholarship within the school as well as establishing the Sandra J. Mason Center for Excellence in my neighbourhood of South Jamaica.
Tell us about upcoming projects you are working on?
For the near future, I’ll be working on expanding 1011 Homes LLC. with my business partner as well as working to get my Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing from Howard University. Graduating is my most important goal as of now because the day I cross that stage is the day I become the first college graduate in my family and that is a moment I’m so ecstatic for.
Leave us with some words of advice you can offer to aspiring and current HBCU students
Believe in you. There’s a world out there that will do whatever they can to keep you from immersing yourself in your culture and embracing your Blackness as boldly as you can but when you believe in you, that creates a barrier of confidence that no one can rattle. If no one else is your biggest fan, I am. I will always be an advocate for HBCU students because we never take the easy way out. We work like nobody’s business for half the recognition and all of the impact. That’s going to change soon but it will only be as strong if we have you on our side.
What are 3 fun facts most people don’t know about you?
Aw man, I would definitely said my 3 fun facts are:
– My two favourite movies of all time are Dreamgirls and Ray. It’s so bad that I can tell what scenes are playing simply by the music I hear from the soundtracks.
– I’m also a huge history geek with Greco-Roman mythology, the Harlem Renaissance and World War II being my favourite topics in the subject
– My Hogwarts House is Gryffindor however I do have a ton of Hufflepuff tendencies (Harry Potter is also one of my favourite movie series)
What legacy do you want to leave behind for the next generation?
I just want to be known as someone who was always there for her people. Fame isn’t the goal, impact is. If I can make one person’s day a little brighter by telling them how amazing they are, I’ve done my job. Being there for one another is the purest form of community we can have so let’s continue to unify and be there for each other the best way we know-how.
To learn more about Kristalyn, visit her social media pages