A lot of people have asked me "why" I decided to join the Miss Tennessee Volunteer Program and to not continue the use of my Miss Tennessee America title. I had the chance to share a large portion of that "why" behind my decision at the parents' luncheon last week at the Miss Tennessee Volunteer Pageant and I want to share that in a more public setting on this post with you all.
I decided that the time was appropriate as to not take away attention from the girl that would be crowned Miss Tennessee Volunteer and so that I could adequately put my thoughts together and reflect on what I wanted to share publicly with my personal struggles due to decisions made by MAO leadership without thought or regard for me personally.
I cannot tell you why they chose to blatantly ignore me or why they have not communicated with me since February. I cannot tell you why I felt so disregarded and discarded by the organization I used to admire for so long.
But I can tell you how I was treated by MAO leadership.
I can tell you who has supported me.
I can only tell you what my experience has been and what lead to my decision.
Hopefully, by sharing this, I can lead others to making the right decision for their own journeys as well.
All my love,
I came to this program unsure of who I was and not entirely certain of my life’s direction. This program has helped me find purpose and passion and motivation and so much more. I was 17 when I started competing… I never knew that this program could do so much more than just help me polish my speaking and performing skills. I can honestly say that I do NOT know where my life would be without this program. I do not know that I would have had the opportunities that I have been given, that I would be as motivated and focused as I am, or that I would feel so welcomed and loved and really, just right at home.
One of the "Why's" - My Family
I wouldn’t have been able to survive this year without my amazing family. You have gone above and beyond for me, far beyond what I ever could have asked of you. I never could have imagined that I would face this kind of adversity this year—or that I would have a family that would rise to meet the challenge and be there to catch me when I felt like I was falling. You have helped me guide the most incredibly challenging year of my life-- you have supported me when I needed a shoulder to cry on or a hug or even helping me find and pay for an attorney! I am so grateful God gave me such an incredible family that loves me unconditionally and has supported me each and every day since embarking on this brave, new journey all the way until its completion. I love you all so much!
But one of the main reasons for "why"....
This (Miss Tennessee Volunteer) organization has truly become a part of my family. I see so many familiar faces today when I look out at all of you, and I know that I wouldn’t be able to stand up here today and speak without your support of this program. I wouldn’t be able to tell you about the more than 70,000 children I spoke to this year. I wouldn’t be able to tell you about the more than 80,000 miles I drove or the experiences I’ve had that have truly changed my life forever.
To the parents (Of Miss Tennessee Volunteer Contestants) sitting here today, to the girls competing this week sitting here…I want to be completely honest with you about this year. I owe that to the girls sitting here today to know what kind of a year you’re walking into, and who you will be walking into it with. I owe it to the families I see sitting here today, so that you know how to support your daughter, if she is chosen tomorrow night or if she continues to chase this dream like I did until she gets it. I want you to know just what it is you’re about to experience.
I love this job and I love this organization—more than I can ever possibly begin to describe! I love this job so much I gave every fiber of my being to chasing the opportunity to have this job and I poured every ounce of myself into this year of service. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I love this job so much and worked so hard that it LITERALLY almost killed me. But I never could have made it through this year without the support of so many people sitting with me here today. So many state titleholders experienced the exact same thing that I did this past year, but none of them had an organization to turn to that defied the odds, that was the only state out of 51 entities that stood strong and said NO and chose to persevere for the sake of giving women the chance to pursue their dreams and giving them the tools to do it.
Allison, Amy & Mrs. Jane, I will never be able to fully or adequately express how much I love you all. Your family has taken me under their wings like another daughter or a little sister. You have loved me and been there for me during the most difficult time that I’ve faced in my 23 years and I will be forever grateful for you all and will ALWAYS think of you as a part of my family!
I Don’t think many people know just how supportive you all have been. We have laughed through the fun times and cried through the turbulent times, but you have never once wavered in your loyalty and support. That is something I will always be grateful for and will never be able to repay your kindness and generosity to my family and I. To give you a few examples to illustrate just how incredible these people are, I want to share with you a glimpse into this last year. This year has without a doubt been the most difficult year of my life. You could not have explained to me how much adversity I would face this year, I wouldn’t have believed you! But the love and unwavering support of the people sitting at this table with me…. I have never met a more fiercely loyal or unconditionally loving group. I never knew that when I competed in my first pageant, that this journey would lead me to find family and friends that I never knew I would have. When it comes to the values my family raised me with, I’ve always been taught about loyalty and honesty. And that you stay loyal to the people that you love and are loyal to you. And that you never turn your back on family
This is my family.
And I want to share with you some really important ways that they have been there for me this past year.
In August of last year, just four days before I left for Miss America, I lost my one of my closest friends to a heroin overdose. Even more tragic, my best friend, Katerina was the person that found him. When I got the news of my dear friend's passing, I was in the dance studio with Allison and Mrs. Jane working on talent, and I collapsed into a pile hearing about the news. They picked me up off the ground and carried me when I could barely hold myself up—they wiped my tears and held me through the grief and sorrow like my own mother would. They listened when I tried to make sense through the grief and loss and supported me like I was one of their own.
Later on that day, we had an evening gown fitting and a mock interview. They protected my privacy (during this instance and beyond) and helped me stay calm and collected through the afternoon and into the evening, and were there to hug me and hold me when I started uncontrollably sobbing after the day was over. They helped me process the grief while keeping my whole life together and simultaneously prepare for this much anticipated competition that I’d been preparing for, for six years. They met my confusion and sadness and frustration with patience, understanding and compassion. They helped me work through the incredibly upsetting time and have for months following my friend's death to make sense of it all, so that I could find peace with my emotions and work through the feelings I experienced.
At the Miss America National Competition in Atlantic City, I became incredibly sick and lost my voice. I had two award interviews in addition to my private interview along with being a singer for my talent-- so, I really need my voice. I went to the nurse and the hostesses and asked if I could go to a doctor. I felt horrible and I needed to get better. For three days they said "no", and gave me vitamins or Tylenol. I finally felt so sick by the third day I told them that I needed to go to the doctor immediately, or I would be booking my flight home. They finally took me to the doctor, where I had to receive a steroid shot and take a steroid pill pack because the illness had progressed to a point where aggressive medication was necessary to put me back at peak performance. This many stimulants put my heart at risk, and could have potentially contributed to issues I later experienced.
In addition to feeling like my health was an after thought at the national competition, I don't know that I ever had a fair shot at said competition. Gretchen Carlson was in my private interview with the judges, and told all of the state titleholders on Sunday in the dressing room before we went onstage that she was in all of our interviews. (A practice that I am not accustomed to. I have never had a state board member outside of the judges' chair in a private interview during my 6 years of competing.)
It's sad to say that I don't know that I ever will know if I had a fair shot, based on the treatment by MAO leadership.
When Miss America sent a letter threatening to take my title back in January of 2019, I was on the phone with Allison Demarcus as we read the news. The panic and shock I felt were met with the level headedness and calm, collected response from Allison that I never could have put together in that moment. I couldn’t even think straight and was trying to figure out what’s next and Allison calmly and collectedly told me to talk to my family, and how to go about making the right decision to retain the title I had worked so hard to obtain for so long. I went to my parents and they helped me find the best legal team available to protect my interests and the achievements I had worked so hard to obtain! From January to May, there were many unpleasant surprises and challenges that came our way. Throughout it all, Allison, Amy and Mrs. Jane always kept my best interests at the forefront of their minds. They always put my interests and my future at the front of their decisions.
This year, from the constant stress and anxiety I experienced, I knew that my body was taking the hardest toll of all. I had ignored my own body’s needs, until friends and family were repeatedly bringing my health to my attention.
Allison helped me find a doctor to evaluate the problems and pain I was experiencing.
I will never forget the day when the doctor looked me in the eye and said that I was at such risk that they wanted to consider hospitalizing me immediately. The problem had grown to the point where they said I would have a heart attack before I turned 24… that I could potentially become diabetic before the fall, or even experience kidney failure… or worse, lose my life. At that point, the doctor explained that my heart had been put under so much stress that it was not strong enough to pump blood to my hands or feet and often my blood volume was dangerously low, and could ultimately have permanent damage if we didn’t take immediate action. They said my health was so fragile that they wanted me to refrain from flying or stressful activities because it could push my body over the edge if I continued.
I had to stop my entire life and put this job that I love so much on hold because the issue had grown so serious. I had to put myself and my health before the job, which was incredibly difficult to decide, because I did and do, love this job SO much.
No young woman, or anyone really, should be under that kind of pressure or be pushed to a limit like I was.
But in the turbulence, the crazy… in the eye of the storm, I found a support system that I never knew existed. Not only did my family rally around me in ways I never could have asked them to, but Allison, Amy and Mrs. Jane came to my rescue in an unfathomably heroic way. Anything at all I needed, they were there to help.
Now, I am healthy and back at a stable point thanks to the incredible care team that was there for me and from the support of family and friends. I finally feel like myself again!
So to the girls deciding to compete in MAO or in Miss Tennessee Volunteer,
I can't tell you what is "right" for you to decide.
But here is what I can tell you-
(1) I have not heard from the Miss America Organization / its national leadership in any official form since February 19th.
(2) They (MAO) have not voiced concern for my well being, health, or how this stressful situation has impacted me, personally.
(3) The Miss Tennessee Volunteer Organization has always chosen to put me at the forefront of their decision making process and to use what is in my best interest as their guide for what to decide.
(4) the Miss Tennessee Volunteer organization has always had a vested interest in my health and well being and they have gone above and beyond to look out for my best interests at all times.
The Miss America Organization made me feel silenced and like I did not have a voice. They attempted to take away all outlets for me to share my opinion and made me feel disregarded and ignored. I did not feel my interests were taken into account in any of the decisions they made during my time with them as a state titleholder or at the National Competition.
The Miss Tennessee Volunteer Organization chose to ask me what I wanted and helped to guide me through this difficult journey so that I could achieve my goals and so that I could walk away from this year with my head held high and be proud of the legacy I left behind.
I can't tell you what to decide or what the best decision for you may be.
But I do encourage you, don't trust what people say.
Trust what they do.