Crystal Stone stands in front of First A.M.E. Zion church on N Vancouver & N Williams in Historic Albina, the church that her family used to attend when she was a child growing up.
“Working in an industry dominated by white men, Black women have to work twice as hard to get the same outcome as our peers.”
A culture of support and acceptance builds community
When a fire destroyed their home in Galveston, Texas almost 90 years ago, Crystal Stone’s great-grandparents moved west, first to Vancouver before buying a home in Northeast Portland. Her great-grandfather quickly became a central pillar in the community, helping to establish the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Homeownership and entrepreneurialism ran deep in her family, and Northeast Portland proved to be fertile ground for their efforts: her grandparents on one side of the family owned a home on Northeast Rodney and Going, and her grandfather had a barbershop on Northeast 7th and Knott. Her maternal grandmother still lives in the area.
The family has witnessed vast changes in Northeast Portland. The church co-founded by her great-grandfather was displaced during the redevelopment period in the 1950s and 1960s that brought I-5 and Legacy Emanuel Hospital to Albina—a devastating experience for the congregants and the larger community. Even now, Portland’s neighborhoods continue to change, altering the cultural fabric in significant ways. “To see how much the city has changed in the last 15 years is kind of scary,” she says.
That’s just one reason why Crystal is proud to work at Raimore Construction. Headquartered in Northeast Portland and committed to building the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, Raimore cultivates a culture that lets her bring her entire self—her “true, authentic, unapologetic self”—to work every single day. Before Raimore found her, she relied on code switching to navigate predominantly white spaces and experienced racism, as most people of color do.
“Working in an industry dominated by white men, Black women have to work twice as hard to get the same outcome as our peers,” she says. “The most challenging thing was deliberately not being acknowledged in meetings or being asked trivial questions to test my knowledge.”
Today, Crystal is Raimore’s Office Manager, a role in which she supervises a team of administrative staff and oversees contracts large and small. “Math is my jam,” she says. Her knack for numbers was her clear advantage when she graduated Jefferson High School in North Portland two decades ago. But it took a few job experiences and a mentor who challenged her to believe in herself before she landed this dream job.
She began her career working at a landscaping business where she learned how to write estimates and proposals for residential work, as well as how to run payroll and accounts receivable. Crystal quickly grasped the value of technical skills, so she taught herself Microsoft Excel and other tools to stand out from the competition.
This experience ultimately led to work at a different company where one day, the owner—a woman—asked her to apply to be the full-time bookkeeper. The invitation took Crystal by surprise, and she said, “No, I’m not ready to be your full-time bookkeeper!” But the owner persisted, and eventually, Crystal she took the offer. “I lacked a little bit of confidence and decided, okay, you believe in me, I should believe in me.”
The investment paid off, and Crystal’s career took flight. She landed a position with a large firm but quickly reached a dead end: her only promotion opportunities, she was told, would involve relocating across the country. With two kids and a life deeply-rooted in Portland, Crystal knew moving wasn’t an option. Eventually, Raimore found her, and now she feels like she is making a difference.
Because her workload includes managing contracts, and Raimore’s approach to subcontracting is aimed at supporting and growing a wide swath of other businesses, she is regularly in a position to help businesses which might otherwise be overlooked and underutilized.
“The thing about larger contractors is they stick with who they know and what they know,” Crystal says. “At Raimore, we work with smaller subcontractors and help them learn how to navigate through the submission process, which includes monthly billings, compliance (certified payroll reports), insurance certificates and bonds. Just taking those extra little steps to help them be more efficient in their processes will ultimately help them be successful. That’s what Raimore does.”
Working alongside Hamilton Sundt as a joint venture on the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, Raimore now has an unprecedented opportunity to invest in subcontractors across the community. Projects of this size bring long-term stability for contractors, subcontractors and their employees. From pre-apprenticeships to DBE certifications, Raimore is laying the groundwork to prepare and educate subcontractors about the opportunities to come.
Crystal sees the potential for both project work and also for Raimore’s culture of acceptance to spill over as more firms get involved in the Rose Quarter project. “How many owners of multimillion dollar construction companies do you know who will sit down and take the time to talk with their people from the bottom all the way to the top? You know, that’s the difference between Raimore and any other construction company that I’ve worked for. It’s the culture. I know the people here genuinely care, and they invest in their people.”
And no doubt this culture is a step toward restoring the Portland Crystal used to know: a community where people invest in each other, just like her great-grandparents invested in their congregation almost a century ago. “I’m finally in an environment where I can thrive and grow.” Crystal pauses then adds, “And heal.”