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  • Writer's pictureKaren Brittingham-Edmond

How Women's Leadership Is Shaping The Future: Celebrating Women's History Month 2024 With Miss. NJ USA Derby Chukwudi!

March 1, 2024

Picture Source Provided By Miss. NJ "USA" Derby Chukwudi

Favorite Quote:

"I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me."

Tracee Ellis Ross

Meet Miss. New Jersey "USA" 2023, Derby Chukwudi, is a driven and inspiring young woman who has shattered barriers and made history by becoming the first Black woman to win the Miss N.J. "USA" pageant in over a decade. Her journey to the crown was filled with challenges, but her unwavering dedication, hard work, and belief in herself have paid off, making her a true inspiration to many. Today, she continues to use her platform to promote financial literacy and encourage girls to pursue their dreams, a testament to her commitment to positively impacting the world. Please enjoy this stunning interview with the relaunched Echo's Mrs. Lashawna Edmond and Miss New Jersey 2023 "USA" Derby Chukwudi!

Kindly Karen Echo News TV LLC Publisher/Editor 02/27/2024

Relaunched Echo Spotlight Reporter Lashawna Edmond

What inspired you to compete in the Miss N.J. "USA" Pageant, and how did you prepare for it?

 Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

I didn't participate in any pageants when I was growing up. But I knew some girls who entered pageants, and I thought it would be cool to do in my twenties. That was my initial inspiration. In late Fall of 2019, I did some research on the pageant my friend had done, made some outreach, and then forgot about the whole thing.

Fast forward to 2021, I got invited for an interview for Miss NJ USA. I researched pageants and took the interview because I love to talk and asked about what it is to be Miss NJ USA. Once offered an opportunity to participate in the pageant, I was not going to join at first. However, after reflecting on why I did not want to participate in the pageant, I realized there was fear behind that reaction of not wanting to participate.

And, as I always say, we must run towards our fear and confront it to conquer it. I first competed in Miss NJ USA 2021 but did not win or even receive a placement. I thought I felt confident in 2021, but then I realized I needed to be more confident and had a long way to go.

Returning in 2023, I came not only confident but with an authentic approach to competing. I put in the work to participate in the pageant. I knew myself better in 2023 and could join the pageant as a strong competitor. This means work. I had to practice my:

  • Walk

  • Interview Preparation

  • Bathing Suit Modeling (etc.)

My attitude in 2023 was that "I am that girl!" to win this pageant. So my attitude matured to be more confident that year in 2023 for the Miss NJ USA Pageant. It's important to see yourself as the ideal candidate when being interviewed for a pageant, and to achieve this, believing in yourself is crucial.

Plus, the last time a Black woman was crowned Miss. NJ USA was in 2010. So it's been 13 years. So, as a Black woman, I knew what this would mean for the community. And I am not alone. Every Black woman who participated in the Miss NJ USA Pageant from 2011 to 2023 entered with the desire to break the trend and become the Queen.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

Wow, that is a fantastic story. And there are so many levels. It is so amazing that you shared that. Because we get wrapped up in things we do not know, like winning Miss. NJ. But you pushed through and made that happen. And again, congratulations, that's so exciting.

Miss New Jersey U.S.A. Derby Chukwudi,

Thank you!

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

What was your experience like as Miss NJ USA and how did it impact your life?

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

I am still Miss. NJ USA; I give up my crown in June. The experience has been excellent. And with great rewards come great responsibility. Once winning Miss NJ USA, you are now in the public eye, and everyone is looking to or expecting certain things from you. But I was very intentional about what my experience would be like as Miss. NJ USA., you have the flexibility to make appearances. To drive whatever cause you want to promote. I intentionally support meaningful causes, from giving speeches to bringing awareness to financial education. I share things to inspire people on social media. I work full-time on Wall St., so you can understand that I have very long days.

I had to utilize time management skills while knowing I was the right person for the job as a full-time professional and Miss NJ USA. I needed to be more particular about where I spend my time. Another fun fact I'd like to share is that of all Black queens who represented New Jersey USA at Miss USA; I am the first to place at Nationals represented New Jersey USA at Miss USA. Another responsibility of being Miss. NJ USA, you must be prepared to give a speech at any event you go to. (Even if you're not on the agenda.) So you should always be prepared to be ready to represent. Because for me, I represent my firm, my title, myself, and my family. But most of all, I represent the face of what possibilities looks like. I was fortunate to have a job supporting me as I ran for Miss USA. One thing about being Miss NJ USA is that you are a type of ambassador for the public representing your state.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

Yeah, that is a big platform with a lot of responsibility in working on Wall St. So again, excellent!

How did you use your platform, Miss NJ USA, to promote your chosen causes or make a difference in the world?

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

I initially focused on a broad scale of inspiring people that their dreams are valid and can come true. The first thing I did was to organize a discussion on financial literacy. We had a financial literacy workshop, a panel, and a keynote speaker to discuss money conversations. The event was called "Money Talks." In addition, I would speak at different organizations to encourage businesses and educators to invest in girls. A friend who is also really into financial literacy partnered with me to speak at their Virtual Black History event, where I will address financial literacy in Jersey City. Financial literacy is something that has to get into the classrooms and be taught, such as in the area of real estate.

On a side note, as a child, I have always had a strong interest in how money works. My approach centers on the psychology of the mind. What are you thinking when it comes to money? The way we think or lack information on financial literacy is poignant. For example, why do some people go on a shopping spree when they find themselves in a stressful situation? These are the things I bring to light in my conversation. And I will continue this conversation even when I have to pass on the crown. It is important to note that about 21 states in the United States require some form of financial literacy in the classroom. When I attended school in Kentucky, I took an eight-week course on financial literacy. That short eight-week class made a big difference in my life, so I know it can make a big difference in a young person's future if they are fully informed on how money works in America. Next week I will be speaking at a college on the subject.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

That is amazing. It's like a passion for purchasing. And you are right. When it comes to finances, there is a mind shift where we focus on the buget but not the more significant issue of prosperity. And it would help if people looked at the psychology of financial literacy. This is a handy tool to have.

Can you tell us about your most memorable moment or experience during your reign as Miss NJ USA?

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

Well, for me, being Miss NJ USA is so cool. I meet amazing people, attend events and visit incredible places. Still, the most memorable experience I have every single time is when I show up wearing my crown and sash and go to speak to young kids and young adults, and people can literally see their eyes sparkle or be like, "Oh my God, it's Miss New Jersey USA." And you can see in that young person that this is who they want to be, or they feel they can do that because she did it. My recent memorable moment was attending an all-girls catholic school for a Black history event to speak to 300 girls. The same fantastic response and interaction happens each time; that's when you know you are in your purpose. You're able to change one life at a time.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

Wow, and we know that young adults need to see that example because when they see

someone who looks like them who did this, they begin to believe that "I can do it too." We've seen in Psychology that it works via positive role modeling, so that's beautiful!

What advice would you give young women aspiring to compete in the Miss NJ USA Pageant?

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

Honestly, everybody says "be yourself." Everybody tries to be what they think the judges are looking for them to be. The judges do not have a rule book but are looking for that confidence in a candidate. Confidence that shines is authentic. And the only way to showcase your confidence is by being yourself. And not just yourself but your best self. And what does that look like? Well, what every your strong suit is. If interviewing is your best attribute or ability to command a crowd with your walk, practice your God-given abilities to a "t." And it would help if you were organized so that you come ready when you go to pageant weekend. So be prepared, show up on time every day, and be confident.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

What are some common misconceptions about the Miss NJ USA pageant, and how would you address them?

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

People had a misconception that when entering the pageant, they were never going to pick a Black girl, but I did not let that deter me. I was the first Black female with an afro-textured ponytail to win the pageant. Another misconception is that the girls who participate in pageants are catty. The young women who participate in the pageants are lovely and unique people because everyone has something going for them that makes them stand out uniquely.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

That's good to break those misconceptions, especially since they want more girls to participate in pageants, and nobody wants to be around cattiness. So, talking about those experiences and breaking down those misconceptions can be helpful.

Can you share funny or exciting behind-the-scenes stories from your time as Miss NJ USA?

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

At Miss USA, I led my class in prayer before we went on stage to compete, and I burst into tears. The entire class immediately shared some quick tips for me so that I won't mess up my makeup. The other time was when competing at Miss NJ USA and one of my press-on nails fell off. I was going to go out there with a missing nail, but at the last minute, I changed my mind and fixed the nail before appearing. I thought that was really funny.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

That was really funny, and just like when you were praying, and you think you're going to have just this simple prayer, and then suddenly the spirit moves on you.

Miss New Jersey USA Derby Chukwudi

Yes, it was full-blown tears.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

Finally, what are you currently working on and your plans and aspirations?

Miss New Jersey USA. Derby Chukwudi

I started writing, and I love to write. I started a newsletter called Soromjee, which means "Journey with Me" in my native language (Igbo). This week, I gave insight into my Journey and what I've learned. Such as attitude, dealing with doubt, and recognizing that I did not get here alone because I had dreammakers. So that's really cool. The future goal is to have an audio podcast of the newsletter a video to expound on that, and I plan to continue spreading awareness about financial literacy. I've made over 100 appearances and look forward to giving back, at the same time while continuing my career in Finance.

Relaunched Echo News Shawna

That's exciting, and it's amazing to take this opportunity and not just stay in one lane. You're

branching out in different areas and being multi-hifinated. Thank you so much for crafting out this time with the relaunched Echo, New Jersey's oldest Black-owned newspaper since 1904.

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