In 1997, Terry Crews was sweeping factory floors in Los Angeles while working two other jobs to make ends meet.
Fresh out of his 6-year-long NFL career, Crews was out of money, so he moved to L.A. to pursue a career in production or movie design but found no luck at first. Although his financial situation was sparse, his ability to provide for his wife and daughter was enough for him.
“The satisfaction came with knowing that I’m doing something about my situation,” Crews said. “From that moment I never stopped working.”
Twenty-one years later, Crews is a successful actor, author, comedian and activist nearing 50 years old. He shared this story with an audience of about 1,000 Monday night for Associated Students Inc. “Evening With” series at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center. Crews told his story to inspire students to take control of their own lives — a lesson he learned the hard way — and one he said, he is still learning.
Crews visited Cal State Long Beach despite an emotionally greuling civil suit case that has been public since October. He’s taking Hollywood agent Adam Venit to court for sexual assault, accusing Venit of groping him at a party last year.
“I don’t care what happens at the end of this case,” Crews said. “I did something about my own situation. You can’t touch me like that. You can’t treat me like that.”
While Crews is not the only celebrity to come out about his experience being assaulted, he is one of the only prominent males to do so, and the only case so far that has been referred to the city attorney. While Crews mentioned that it wasn’t easy to take his story public, he’s embraced his role as a voice for the cause.
“I feel so honored to lead by example,” Crews said. “I’m a living breathing example of what’s going to happen, look at me and how my situation turns out, what happens with me is going to determine how this thing goes for everyone.”
Crews’ sexual assault case was one of many personal topics he discussed throughout the night. He said his goal going into the event was to give students the raw picture of who he is outside of Hollywood.
“I don’t care about the image that is Terry Crews,” he said. “It’s not my job to share how good I am and how great of a guy I am. My job is to kill that image. That image is what stops progress.”
He shared stories about his childhood life growing up in Flint, Michigan, his abusive father, about fighting his way into college and his addiction to pornography growing up. With the likeness of an old childhood friend, Crews invited the audience into the many turns of his life, starting one story and shooting off into different tangents. Tangents filled with stories of good and bad teachers, of getting his shoe stolen on the way home and seeing Star Wars for the first time in a small drive-in with his aunt.
“I call this evening therapy,” Crews said. “I love sharing, I love demystifying.”
Through the stories of trials and success which filled the arts center with frequent laughter and awes of silence — applause was the most common reaction throughout the night. His willingness to share struggles he lived through only seemed to draw students closer to him.
The night was filled with multiple impromptu “Terry” chants and Crews breaking out into song and dance. A student read a note to him with a message: “Cheeseburger Eddie for life,” a reference to the McDonalds-obsessed character Crews portrayed in “The Longest Yard.” Through the lighthearted fun Crews brought to the stage, the recurring theme of the night students took away seemed to be inspiration.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Diana Mendez, second year kinesiology. “I thought of him as an actor and just this funny guy and to hear his background story was just amazing. You never really know what’s going on in someone’s life and you never really know their story and I just thought it was really inspiring hearing about the way he grew up and how he’s been treated, how he fought through everything.”
Crews has embodied this beacon of hope on a larger scale in the past few months. Having been open about his Hollywood experiences, he made it a point to address not only the issue of sexual assault, but “toxic masculinity” in modern society which, he noted, many of these cases seem to stem from.
“I learned about masculinity the toxic way,” Crews said. “One thing you’re taught is that because you’re a man, you’re worth more than a lady. And I thought that’s the way it was.”
Battling a pornography addiction and coming into his marriage with misconstrued, but common, views of what it meant to be a man, Crews told the audience how this thinking slowly tore marriage and family apart. He acknowledged that this mindset has to change if society wants lasting changes to take place.
“Rape culture is real,” Crews said. “This is not a witch hunt, it’s a fumigation.”
While he is accepting of his case unraveling in the spotlight, Crews acknowledged the struggles people face to come forward about their experiences, comparing it to flying a plane having never flown before. He finished his speech with a note of hope and encouragement.
“I want to let people know that talking to someone you trust and believe in and sharing your trauma will save your life,” Crews said. “Believe me I thought, ‘What did I do.’ You have to know you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t deserve any abuse. Don’t hold the shame, it’s not yours.”