Wingate Faces

Education carried her through life

All of the students in one of Crystal Moore's history classes scored low on their first test of the semester. So, she sat them all in a circle and told them her story to make sure they knew the value in a college education.

Crystal began a life of learning when her sisters began teaching her to read at the age of three. "I was too young to really read and couldn't have known phonetics," she said. "I was probably just memorizing. We had nothing else to do." The older sisters somehow had picked up reading on their own.

The home Crystal shared with her parents and siblings was a blue metallic Cadillac that they all crammed into. Occasionally they were able to stay in apartments. The children weren't born in hospitals, so they had no birth certificates. They had never been to school, her mother had dropped out of school in the seventh grade and her dad dropped out in eleventh grade. "We were like gypsies," she said. "I had no foundation in education."

Someone reported their lifestyle to the Department of Social Services in Louisiana and because of her parents' drug addiction and parental abuse and negligence, the children were removed from them and put in foster care. At that point, Crystal lost all contact with her siblings other than her sister Stephanie who went to the same foster home.

Although she continued to endure abuse in the foster home, the two sisters were put in elementary school at their grade level. The state mandated that they have full-time tutors to help them catch up academically. By the time Crystal was in fourth or fifth grade, she was ahead of her classmates because of the extra help she had received and because of her love of learning.

Crystal's mother, Gail, had divorced Crystal's biological father and remarried. She and her husband, Owen, had a son named Joey. In 1997, when Joey was nine years old, they were living with two roommates in a house in New Orleans. Gail, Crystal's step-father Owen, Joey and the two roommates were all killed. Douglas Whitten was convicted of their murders and is serving time at Angola Penitentiary.

School became a refuge, the place where she could run away from abuse, so she poured herself into learning. "Education saved my life," she said. "It has kept me sane."

As soon as Crystal turned 17, she went off to college earning bachelor and master's degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill in English. She lost contact with her foster family when she moved to Charlotte. She knew it was time to sever ties with people that had a negative impact on her, so she started with a clean slate. "No one knew who I was or where I was," she said.

After receiving a master's degree in history, she went into teaching. "I believe the reason I lived through my childhood is because God was preparing me to receive an incredible gift," she said. "He has given me a true passion for teaching, and for reaching out to my students beyond the regular hours of the school day," she said. Crystal currently teaches history at UNCC and Wingate University and has plans to get a PhD in history from Rutgers or George Mason University.