DETROIT (WXYZ) — Crystal Windham had a passion for creating early in life. She knew she wanted a career in design or the arts by the time she was in high school.
Then, while attending the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, she landed a summer internship at General Motors. That paved the way for where she is now, GM's Executive Director of Global Industrial Design.
She worked her way up, taking on jobs both large and small. Eventually Crystal started managing a design team, and then became a brand director. She's worked on GM designs for vehicles like the Impala, Escalade, and the new electric SUV the 2023 Lyriq.
“That was an amazing experience. To be responsible for GM’s premium brand," she said of her time working as Director of Interiors for Cadillac.
In 2008, Crystal became the first Black woman director in GM Design’s history.
Thursday, she'll be taking center stage at the Garden Theatre to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award.
It's all part of the Ajamu Group's 11th Annual Multicultural Media Luncheon.
The founder of the Academy Awards-style luncheon ceremony is Cheryl Parks Ajamu, who spent years attending the Detroit Auto Show as a media professional. While there, she noticed something was missing.
“There was so many people of color. Asian, Hispanic, African American. And, no one knew about these people," she said, speaking about the talented designers she'd meet at the show. “So I said well let me see if there’s something I can do to create a platform and educate the public about it.”
The awards ceremony is now in its 11th year. This year's celebrity keynote speaker is sports agent Rich Paul, who will be speaking on “Building A Disruptive Brand: The New Normal."
“The talent has always been there. It just needed a platform where more people could learn about communities of color and what they’re doing within this automotive industry," Cheryl said.
Windham said representation has played a role in her professional journey in several ways. She said she was encouraged to explore automotive design by a mentor at CCS.
“The fact that they came to me and said you would be really marketable. Because companies need to reflect their customer base. And because you are a Black female, that is a customer that they definitely wanted to understand even better," she said.
Crystal said meeting GM's first Black female designer while still at CCS did a lot for her.
"Knowing her was great. It said to me that I can do this too," Crystal told 7 Action News.
While this award is for lifetime achievement, Windham has big plans ahead.
“I have plenty of time... to help the pipeline of talent. That means I can help others," she said. “Being in this role, you know, I don’t want to be the last. I want to make sure we help build a pipeline of diverse talent."
Her advice for young creatives considering automotive design? Confirm your talent, seek out mentorship, and get out of your comfort zone.
She also suggested knowing for sure if you like, or love something.
"The way I tell the difference between liking and loving doing something, is that you wouldn’t mind doing it all day and all night."
You can still buy tickets to watch the livestream of the Ajamu Group's Multicultural Media Luncheon, which is $35. Click here for more.