Crystal Anthony: A Social Worker’s journey from the Super Bowl to the Board of Behavioral Sciences

By S. Jolene Hui, MSW, LCSW
NASW-CA Membership Director

Crystal Anthony is a voice for her community. And now she is a voice for social workers in the state of California.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker and NASW member, Anthony was recently appointed by Governor Newsom to serve on the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

Anthony explained that she applied for a state commission but then saw there were vacancies for the board, not thinking she would get chosen. She believes she is a good fit for the board because of her extensive work within systems. She stated that, ““I see how system impacted people are impacted in their careers as well.”

A therapist for Program for Torture Victims and a founder and Co-Executive Director for Underground GRIT, Anthony has spent her life giving back and advocating for others, often those who no one else wanted to help.  

Her journey through social work started when she was a child growing up in San Diego. She described that her father was a “drug trafficker and involved with a dangerous group of people.” And stated that she and her mother are survivors and that she wanted to, “help victims of domestic violence because that’s what I grew up in.”

She went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Global Studies from California State University San Marcos followed by her Masters in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Her first and second year field placements were with North County Lifeline where she was subsequently employed. While there she said she was able to “practice visionary skills,” and she calls it the, “best internship ever.” The organization gave her a chance to work within systems and programs and while there she went into detention facilities because of her interest in human trafficking. This work helped her gain skills in building positive relationships with law enforcement and the community. She was also awarded a community leadership award from the FBI while at North County Lifeline.

From North County San Diego she moved to Orange County where she began working with incarcerated kids with serious charges. Here she implemented many different treatment programs to assist kids when they are inside as well as help with their treatment on the outside. The list of services she provided to youth there was almost endless – ranging from EMDR, use of a therapy dog, yoga, Reiki and other holistic treatments, poetry, arts, assisting with a Fashion Show, arranging a weekly guest speaker series, donating Father Gregory Boyle’s book (Tattoos on the Heart), and at one point bringing in Carne Asada fries and burritos. Through all of this she said she was, “Creating a new vision of what rehabilitation hope and forgiveness looks like.”

Anthony explained that once these kids started getting out she saw the deficiencies and found that they needed a, “walk through life approach,” which led her to co-found her organization Underground GRIT that helps provides services to youth on the inside and the outside. She said, “I feel like I am the person I am today because of my kids and the work that I’ve done. My clients have had grace for me at times when I didn’t.”

While she grew up in a traumatic setting, she said, “I never knew I was an at-risk kid,” Anthony said. I may have been hungry for food, but I was never hungry for love.” She described that her mother and grandmother “invested love” in her and taught her such skills as treating others with love, kindness, and how to be strong as well.

Anthony also credits after-school programs for additional education. When she was early middle school age she won a speech contest through her after school program at the YMCA. She was on NBC News and got to attend the Super Bowl. Although she saw it as an opportunity to, “eat nachos and watch Boyz II Men,” this was a turning point moment for her in that, “I recognized in that moment that I could be anything I wanted.”

Self-care is also important to Anthony. She loves spending time with her husband, dog, and family, doing yoga, Reiki, going to concerts, and watching Netflix. She shared these words of wisdom: “I am a very quirky person – people are going to accept you and love you for who you are when you are doing good things. Don’t lose who you are. Don’t try to be something different. Be your authentic self. Just be you.”

Crystal Anthony