Photography by Danny Fulgencio.
Crystal Z. Perry has an agriculture degree from Texas A&M University. A former Carter High School cheer squad captain, she worked as a corporate recruiter for 20 years before venturing into her own business in marketing and branding. Oak Cliff connections put her at the heart of a Dallas music scene full of producers, songwriters and musicians whose names might not be in lights, but who are making big moves. Like, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake big. “I started out in artist management, and that lasted about six months when I figured out I don’t like that,” she says. Four years ago, she quit her job to focus full time on MDRN MGMT, the company she started with her business partner, musician Geno Young. She’s a member of the Mayor’s Star Council, and she’s on the board of Top Ten Records and the steering committee for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Dallas Residency Program.
Her third place in the neighborhood, after home and work: I’m at Vegan Food House for as many meetings and breakfasts and lunches and dinners as possible. Then my mom’s house. We live about seven minutes apart, and she cooks. And my ex-husband’s parents’ house. His mom cooks too, and we’re good friends.
An accomplishment she’s proud of: Our Forbes.com series. There was a three-installment series about Dallas music [in February 2016]. The writer contacted me. These guys have been doing this at this level for years, and finally our story is told on an international platform. Being part of that was special. I woke up the morning it was published and drove to my mom’s house. I was so overwhelmed because it was a very Oak Cliff thing, and it was a very city thing, and it was just one of those things that was just special. I’ve always watched these guys be so humble and so quiet about what they’re doing. And it was a chance to tell people how dope we are right here in Oak Cliff.
The most challenging thing she’s overcome in her career: Believing I could do it. For so long, I’d been a go-to for people. They believed I could do it. I know corporate recruiting and interior design. That’s how I made money. It took me a while to think, “They trust you. Why can’t you trust yourself?” I went back to school and got a master’s degree in internet marketing. These people believed that I could be successful, and I had to believe it at least enough to formulate a plan.
Misconceptions people have about her business: They think it’s glamorous all the time. They see me waking up on a Monday saying, “Hey, here’s a show with Badu and the Symphony. Come out.” But they don’t see that I’ve been working on that since last year. In Beyoncé’s “Homecoming,” you see how much work went into this two-hour performance. It’s like that. It’s like that for all the things. From a branding perspective, there’s the misconception that you don’t need what I do. People will come to me and say, “I want to do a photo shoot.” Well, what are you doing a photo shoot for? If you haven’t figured out your position in the market, and you haven’t figured out what you want to do, you’re going to do a lot of work with very little return. You have to figure that out first and then build a plan to grow. There are so many examples of why getting your brand together is important. The rapper Chika did an ad campaign with Calvin Klein, and it was an underwear ad. She is not runway model size. But her presence is that of somebody who is comfortable in her skin. It just made sense. You have to take advantage of that because these companies see the value in spending $250,000 on an Instagram campaign rather than $2 million on a TV commercial that their target market isn’t even going to see.
What she’s proud of, besides work: People know me as someone who does exactly what they say they’re going to do. Someone who has her own opinions, and yours don’t have to be mine, and I’m still going to let you have yours. Also as being an advocate for people. You’ll definitely find me calling out things that affect marginalized people. I recognize my privilege as growing up middle class. I’m an advocate at a safe house, where I volunteer. I like being known as someone who doesn’t take shit, especially in the South where womanhood is looked at a certain way.
The best advice she’s received: Daniel Jones [an Oak Cliff musician who’s worked with Timbaland, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake] told me: “People are going to be people. And you can’t take that personally. You can feel a way about it. But it can’t drive your decisions.” At the time I had no idea just how people, people could be. Don’t have such high expectations of people that you’re going to be let down.
The best gift she ever received: My dog, Emilio Poochi. He’s 13 now, a tiny toy poodle. He was a housewarming present from my ex-husband when we bought a house together.
Her greatest influence: It’s my mother. My parents survived the segregated South. Both went on to college. On my dad’s side, his dad graduated from college, which was very unusual for a black man at the time. My mom had the typical story. Her parents were sharecroppers. Her dad had an eighth-grade education. Her mom had a fourth-grade education. She retired from DISD and won a lot of awards and accolades along the way. She does not understand what the hell it is I do. But even now, she’s still supportive. When I look at having to figure out gender relations and race relations and all of these things she’s done, she’s navigated things I will never be called to navigate. The things my parents taught me: You can’t make excuses. You can’t claim your victories and blame your losses. This neighborhood … Oak Cliff and Carter High School instilled in me that we’re showing up to win. We were taught to be excellent. We were taught to mentally be tough. If there’s a competition, you show up to the competition.
Advice she would give her younger self: Be OK with your truth a lot sooner.
Advice for anyone who wants to go into her field: Do it. People say, “Someone’s already doing this, though.” Nike is there. Reebok is there. Puma is there. At the end of the day, they’re all tennis shoes. I don’t expect to go into Sephora and see only Fenty. You certainly can do it, because a girl with zero experience and a degree in agriculture did it.
How she would like to be remembered: I would like to be remembered as a problem solver. Here was an issue, and she had a solution for it. But I don’t want that to be sugar coated. I’m happy to play nice, sure. But I want people to know that I was unapologetic about being a badass. Don’t let them take the Oak Cliff out of it. I want people to say, “You always knew where you stood with her.”
How she relaxes: I watch TV — very old TV. The latest real show I watched was “The Golden Girls.” I love old ’80s series — especially murder mysteries, such as “Matlock,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Perry Mason.”
The biggest problem our community faces: Brand identity. I was at an event, and people were talking about change. They were talking about Oak Cliff like it’s all crime ridden. When I was in high school, my parents did not — and still don’t — live in a crime-ridden neighborhood. When we turned 16, we had parties, and we got cars. I spent my childhood shopping at Neiman Marcus, and I still do now. Some of the preeminent artists making the most popular music today are here. We don’t do enough to talk about the roots of Oak Cliff.