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The first time Crystal Good left West Virginia—like, really left—she was 13. Up until then, apart from trips to Myrtle Beach for vacations, she really hadn’t spent time outside of her small town in Kanawha County.
“Growing up in St. Albans was a safe place,” Good said.
But the only markers she had for success and beauty were the homecoming queens, the blonde, blue-eyed beauties. She wasn’t that; she’s Black, and said she felt different from most of the other teenagers.
Then, Good won a modeling contest, and that took her to New York City to sign with an agency. At age 13, she worked as a model with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein
She says the trip opened her eyes to a totally different world, and a new perception of herself.
“What happened to me in that experience was that my idea of beauty shifted,” Good said. “I recognized that beauty was not just my homecoming queen.” Good concluded “that I was a pretty girl too.”
That experience in New York gave Good a new sense of a world, bigger than her hometown.
“I think St Albans gave me a way to look at the world, and then recognize that it was a very small perspective. It was a valid perspective, but a very small perspective. And I think that’s the beauty of hometowns. Is that once you sort of experience a bigger world, you can cherish the things that were special and different.”
Good returned from that modeling trip in New York, with big dreams. She wanted to continue her modeling career and also become a writer. As a teenager, she even considered trying to raise money to purchase the last Black newspaper in West Virginia, The Beacon Digest, which went out of business in the mid-1990s.
But it took leaving again, three decades later at age 45, to set her back on a path to fulfilling that dream of running a Black paper.
This time, she left for California. She moved to Los Angeles in December 2019. Good said her time there was affirming.
“I was in a space where people believed in creativity and creative ideas. I needed that energy. I needed to know that things were happening in the world, and that I could be a part of it with my story.”
Good had felt stuck, creatively, while living in West Virginia. And staying in California for a short time gave her the boost she needed. But she felt pulled back. And she had a plan: to launch a newspaper called Black By God, The West Virginian. It’s the only newspaper in the state that intentionally centers non-white voices.
“I know that this is needed, because how many black journalists are working in West Virginia right now?” she said.
Good only knows of one fulltime Black journalist currently working in the state. And she hopes that eventually, Black By God will grow so she can hire more writers and editors.
Her second print issue, which was published in early December, features stories about Black culture, health care and history. There are also white voices speaking to anti-racism in the papers’ opinion section.
The past several weeks she’s been distributing the free papers across the state, hand-delivering them to coffee shops, restaurants and hair salons.
“I have 1,000 pounds of Black By God newspapers in my car,” Good said, laughing. “Like, this is like nuts, right? But I just believe in it.”
The process of traveling throughout West Virginia, meeting people she’s never met, has been an eye opening experience for Good, because it’s made her realize that there are some places where her paper isn’t welcome. And that’s made her question, is she welcome, too? It’s also brought her situations that have made her afraid, like one day when she was pulled over by the police when she was traveling through Beckley.
“I got pulled over by the police because I have California plates. And that was probably one of my scariest West Virginia moments because I didn’t know why I was being pulled over.”
She said she wasn’t aware, but her license plates were expired. Pretty soon into her conversation with the police, they continued to ask her the same question, she said.
“They wanted to know if I was from here, and thank goodness I have a West Virginia I.D. And they wanted to know, they must have asked me four times. ‘Do you like it better here? Or do you like it better [in California]?’ And my answer was, ‘Officer, I like it better here.’ Now, there’s some truth to that.”
But there was another truth—that there are things about California she likes better. But she stuck with the answer she decided would probably get her on the right side of the police.
“And so that gave me perspective about where Black By God can go and can’t go because I was nervous.”
Good said some people at coffee shops or gas stations have refused to carry her paper. Other times, if she sees a lot of Confederate flags, she just keeps on driving. She said this saddens her, that this place she loves, and wants to make home, doesn’t feel fully welcoming at times.
She knows it’s a gamble to launch a business in the midst of a pandemic, not to mention a media project at a time when newsrooms across the country are collapsing. But she feels like it’s important, something she has to do.
“Success for me is 10 years from now. I’ve got a whole bunch of emails saying, ‘I wrote my first article for Black By God.’ ‘I made my first podcast for Black By God.’ ‘I had my first paper route with Black By God.’ You know, I want to be that catalyst.”
Good wants to see her publication become successful. And while she’s not 100 percent sure she’ll stay in the state—and admits there is a lot about it that frustrates her—it’s where she calls home. And always will. Good publishes her third issue of Black By God in Spring 2022.