In 2018, Nicholas Crutcher launched Crutcher Cornerstone Community Development Corporation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Southeast Colorado Springs that runs after-school and summer camp programs designed to uplift and empower children of color. He’s a civil rights activist, minister, and president-elect of the Garden of the Gods Rotary Club.
What was your childhood like?
So we’ll go back to where it all started. I was born in Peoria, Illinois, during what I will call “the crack epidemic.” My father was a pimp, to my knowledge; he also was a gangbanger, and my mother the same. I actually had crack in my veins, my body had to detox as a baby. Long story short, I was placed in different foster homes. When I was in kindergarten, I shared with one of my teachers that I wanted to be an educator, and I wanted to be a senator, and a businessman, and I wanted to give back to my community. She shared with me — at that time I had a speech impediment, I was in special ed — “Do something where you can use your hands, you’re very creative, be a carpenter.” And it broke my heart.
How did your adoptive parents inspire you to be a lifelong community advocate?
Emma Jean Crutcher is my adoptive mother. She fought the school district for me. I was in special ed but she said “test this baby” — not allowing me to just be labeled. At that time I was taking a lot of medication and in speech therapy. I went from being on the [autism] spectrum to being promoted a grade. When it comes to education, there was someone that fought for me — and it wasn’t my blood family. When I got to Colorado Springs in 2018, my adoptive father passed away. I always remember when I was a kid asking him, “I would love to give back, dad — how can I give back?” and he never answered. Right before he died I said, “I don’t know how to give back.” He said, “What I gave to you, give to somebody else. I loved you. I chose you.” I was adopted. Somebody loved me. Somebody invested in me.
You’ve been involved in youth education since 1996, when you mentored kids at a Grace Missionary Baptist Church camp. Where did the interest in education come from?
There were a few ministers that mentored me and they had a vacation bible study. We couldn’t get any kids to join the vacation bible study. So I said, “What if we change things?” They allowed me to be the principal of the bible study, and we had so many kids come out that they wanted to keep it going. It was right next to a basketball court, and we had a place where kids could get nutritious meals. I worked with the [Colorado Springs] Black Chamber of Commerce and city officials and police officers to get the program up and running.
Tell us about Cornerstone’s programming.
Every young person has to set goals. So depending on their goals, we’ll pair them with mentors. We have a reading component; we launched the fREADom movement, where all of our young people are encouraged to read for 20 minutes a day. We have a STEAM approach. We have a Leadership Development Academy. Every year for the past seven years the mayor has come in for that program, and now we have the police department coming in, and we go to a City Council meeting. We’ve been doing many camps — camp hip-hop, artistry, fashion. We just launched our for-profit printing press, so we’re making our own T-shirts.
What does “Cornerstone” represent in the name of your nonprofit?
The spiritual element — Christ is our chief cornerstone. When I make a decision it’s like, “What would Christ do?” All of our programs are free. When you build a building, a monument, anything, you have to start with a cornerstone, and if your first brick is off, you can’t build a foundation. What’s beautiful is that when you have the right foundation you can build a house on it, you can build a coliseum, anything you build on it will stand.