Monday, August 17, 2015

"We Rise By Lifting Others"

       One week from today I leave for my senior year at High Point University.  As each season comes to a close, I find myself reminiscing on how my life has changed since the one before.  Yes, summer is ending (admitting it is the first step), but with summer’s end brings a new pageant season.  As we move closer and closer to completing our Miss New Jersey Class of 2016, I am reminded of how brilliant each girl truly is.  I have attended all but one local thus far, and am lucky to witness girls’ dreams coming true.  And the girls whose dreams have not yet come to fruition (I say YET because I am positive they will quite soon) are making such leaps and bounds of self-improvement and growth.  Isn’t that why we all compete in the Miss America Organization?  The person I was before I began competing is not the person I am today.  I hope that each contestant who enters the MAO comes out better for her experience. 

       The reason I am rambling on about how amazing my fellow contestants are is because it has come to my attention that they are not getting this kind of recognition elsewhere in the cybersphere.  For many years I have known about the dark Internet abyss known as “the boards.”  If you are aware of them, please, by all means, stay away!  If you have been lucky enough to remain unaware of their presence, here’s an overview: “the boards” are an online forum wherein anyone can anonymously share their opinions and have a discussion about a certain message board’s topic of interest.  There are message boards devoted to pageantry where people talk about contestants, pageants, and anything having to do with the “pageant world.”
       If this is the first you are hearing of the pageant message boards, you may think “what a lovely idea, we can all support the girls and give each other updates!”  At least, that’s what I first thought.  I assume that this was the original intention- to share news such as where a pageant is being held and who is competing or to mention how awesome girls are doing.  Maybe I’m being naive.  Whatever the original intention of the boards, they have become a place for petty gossip and downright hate.  When I was crowned Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen, I heard mention of the boards and as a curious 15 year-old, decided to check them out.  What I read were comments that attacked my physical appearance and questioned why I won the pageant.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that people would say such nasty things about a girl 15 years old, and I don’t think I will ever truly understand the mindset of people who anonymously spread hate through the internet. 
This picture is from the night I was crowned Miss NJOT in 2009- I was ridiculed online for my bangs amongst other things. After reading those comments, I stopped wearing my bangs down and would always wonder what people thought of how I looked.
These pictures are from the night I was crowned Miss Seashore Line last month.  It took me quite some time to realize that I didn't care what anyone said on the Internet or elsewhere- I wear my hair the way I want and feel comfortable in my own skin- just like EVERY girl, pageant contestant or not, should (bye, haters).

       No matter how beautiful, good-hearted, intelligent, and funny my pageant friends are, I am sure they have experienced similar occurrences.  Someone I have known since we were little girls tap dancing to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” also happens to be my fellow contestant.  She has shown such resilience and determination competing for local pageants.  Danielle Barger is a phenomenal tap dancer with a heart of gold.  She works hard to do what she loves and deserves every single “Miss Congeniality” title she wins (which is a lot!).  How can someone so loved by her fellow contestants be shown such hate from an anonymous Internet contributor? 

       A role model of mine, who I’m grateful to now call a dear friend, has been very open about her battle with body image and internet hate, otherwise known as cyber-bullying.  Anna Negron is a woman filled with more passion and love than I thought any person could carry.  The way she makes everyone in the room feel important is really quite beautiful.  So why does a person with such deep inner beauty have to face hateful comments about her outer appearance?  If Anna is changing the world with her charisma, philanthropy, and her unbelievable talent, who could find it in their heart to criticize her? 

       I’m not sure that there are viable answers to all of these questions.  I am sure, however, that bringing someone else down will not make you feel better about yourself.  Saying horrible things about another contestant will not make whichever contestant you prefer any more or less awesome (because I’m sure she’s awesome, too). 
       As we face a new pageant season, let us all remember to think before we speak, and just as importantly, think before we TYPE.  If your comment demeans anyone, it should not be made public.  This includes a comment meant to defend someone else- if your comment meant to make someone feel good reads, “You’re an amazing competitor and a genuine person- not like all the other fake girls” there is still a problem.  Next time, try “You’re an amazing competitor and a genuine person- and that’s all that matters!”  Let us remember that the Miss America Organization exists to empower women and to give women endless opportunity.  Let’s lift one another up without bringing anyone else down in the process and show that while “the boards” exist, they do not impact the love contestants have for each other and the good things they do for their communities. 

       I hope that as I continue competing in this organization, we can rise above the stereotype that pageants girls are bullies and that “the boards” will seize to criticize anyone who is mentioned.  Cyber-bullying is a problem that exists at all ages and affects people more profoundly than most realize.  I vow to try to make “A World of Difference” with my platform and to educate children about the dangers of the cybersphere.  Only when we realize just how insignificant others’ hateful comments are can we truly see how worthy we are of a life filled with courage and integrity.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Keep Calm, it's a New (pageant) Year

Somehow, life in pageant land never slows down!  It has been just over a month since Miss New Jersey 2015 was crowned, and I’m excited to say that I have already qualified for the next Miss New Jersey pageant by winning the title of Miss Seashore Line!  
Photo courtesy of Richard Krauss, official Miss New Jersey photographer!

I’m counting down the days until pageant week 2016 and feel beyond blessed to share this year with the shore family, including my pageant sisters Kelcie and Madison and my perfect teen sister, Jaime!
 Already matching wherever we go!
 The adventures of Kelcie and Brenna continue...
Can you tell Jaime and I were a little excited?

With a new year, comes a new perspective and another chance to break out of my comfort zone.  Every moment in the Miss America Organization has lead me to be the woman I am today and has taught me the importance of service, friendship, and growth.  Through my work with my platform, Keep Calm and Volunteer On, I’ve been able to meet over 1,000 children and teach them how to find their passion and share it.  Upon getting to know my “Kindness Kids,” I’ve discovered a new passion of mine- something I think needs the utmost attention.  While running a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all dedicated to volunteerism, I’ve connected with children and adults alike through social media to network and share volunteer opportunities.  Unfortunately, I’ve also realized just how detrimental the use of social media can be for those who do not use it with caution and integrity.  While visiting schools to talk about volunteerism, I was constantly approached by teachers who needed help stressing to their students the importance of internet responsibility.  Kids who are new to the cybersphere need a lesson about safety, upstanding against cyber-bullying, and using social media to do good.  I have seen firsthand the ways children of this generation are misusing the Internet, and have been inspired to do something about it.  I’m thrilled to be starting a movement that will ultimately improve young people’s Internet experience and create a social media world free of danger and negativity.  With my new title of Miss Seashore Line, I’m ready to take steps with my newly revamped platform, now entitled, “A World of Difference: navigating the cybersphere.”  I will focus on using social media to our advantage and educating children and parents alike on how to properly monitor your social media presence.  My Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts will remain up and running- they may have a different name, but they will continue to share positive messages and volunteer opportunities as a way to better my followers’ Internet experience.  I cannot thank you all enough for staying with me on this journey.  Keep Calm and Volunteer On will continue to be a mantra for me, and I hope for many whom I've been able to impact.  Buckle your seat belts and prepare for blast off- "A World of Difference: navigating the cybersphere" is sure to take us on a new journey to better the coming generations!
Design courtesy of Peggy Nicolle!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Another Year in the Books (post pageant thoughts & new beginnings)

       Another year of competing for Miss New Jersey is in the books.  Of the three years I’ve been competing, each seems to go by faster than the others.  After being crowned Miss Gloucester County in August, I was able to reach out to my community in a way I had never done before.  The endless hours in the gym, numerous school visits with Kindness Kids, countless talent rehearsals, and many, many laughs with my pageant family are forever engrained in my memory.  Being Miss Gloucester County has enabled me to represent a county that shaped me to be who I am.  Spending my year with Tracy, Kelcie, and Sandi has shown me what it truly means to be part of a journey and to never take the experience for granted.  This year, I knew that while I couldn’t wait to leave for Ocean City to pursue the title once again, I was not ready for that week to be over.  I was ready to pour my heart out to the judges and to show New Jersey everything I have done to prepare myself to be their representative.  I was not, however, ready to find out if my hard work would pay off.  

       For almost a year, we local titleholders put everything we have into this organization.  We sacrifice down time with family and friends to try and be world-changers.  Instead of going out for ice cream with my friends, I opt for a gym session with my pageant sister or fulfill a commitment as Miss Gloucester County.  Each local titleholder chooses how she wants her year to pan out- how much effort she will exert in the hopes of becoming Miss New Jersey and how she wants to represent her title.  While the local titleholders get to choose how we will play the part of “Miss Local,” it is a panel of judges who chooses which girl will walk away as “Miss State.” So while I knew I had done everything I could to best represent Gloucester County and prepare myself for pageant week, I could not predict if I would walk away as Miss New Jersey.  It seemed to me that because I could not control if the judges would choose me, I could not control my own happiness.  This, my friends, is where I went wrong.  Your happiness does not rely on someone else’s ability to see your worth.  Repeat it with me.  YOUR HAPPINESS DOES NOT RELY ON SOMEONE ELSE’S ABILITY TO SEE YOUR WORTH.

            No one can expect to win Miss New Jersey.  There are simply too many amazing, deserving girls.  Did I expect to win Miss New Jersey?  Absolutely not.  Do I know I have the ability to be Miss New Jersey? Yes. If I never become a state titleholder, I will rest easy in knowing that through this crazy pageant experience, I made myself the best person I could be.  It is my hope that someday, I will meet a panel of judges that sees a potential in me and makes me their Miss New Jersey.  If that never happens, it is my hope that my peers, my little stars, my family, and everyone I come into contact with can see that passion without a crown on my head.  I will continue to uphold the ideals of this organization for the rest of my life.  Until I age out in two years (is it really that soon?) and am told it’s time to hand over the rhinestones, I will keep coming back for more. 
            With this being said, to continue on this #RoadToMissNJ, I must bid farewell to my current journey.  As a Miss New Jersey ruling, all local titleholders must resign their current title before attending orientation for another local pageant.  Being that I am attending orientation for Miss Seashore Line, Miss Coastal Shores, and Miss Cape Shores tomorrow, today is my last day as Miss Gloucester County 2015.  It has never been harder for me to say goodbye to a local title.  There are not enough words to say how grateful I am for Tracy and Sandi and for my best friend and pageant sister, Kelcie.  We’ve laughed we(you)’ve cried, but most importantly, we’ve shared this experience.  In each FaceTime meeting, mock interview, road trip, alterations appointment, and gym session, we have been in this together.  
 Sisters who workout on hotel room floors together stay together?
 Yes, we're being judged for our ridiculousness at visitation.  So worth the laughs.
One of my favorite moments of pageant week- Kelcie and I both had the privilege of being in the top five.  Nothing is as special as working toward a goal WITH a best friend.

       I cannot properly express what a joy it has been to be part of such an amazing organization and how much I’ve loved being Miss Gloucester County.  Every door must come to a close for another door to open.  Here’s to a new adventure.
            Thank you, all who are reading this, for sticking with me in all of my endeavors and caring enough to keep updated as I pursue my own dreams.  I’ll try to keep you on the edge of your seat…though not as suspenseful as being called last into the top ten (we can laugh about it now, right?) or the rumors that I’m competing for Miss North Carolina.  Did anyone really think this Jersey girl would give up that easily? ;) 
            All my love and gratitude,


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Kindness Kids 2015

One week from today our state will crown the next Miss New Jersey.  For the past three years I’ve welcomed familiar feelings of anxiousness, excitement, preparedness, and most importantly, gratitude.  With every passing June, I am reminded by just how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity.  Since I was crowned in August, I’ve had the chance to meet some of the most amazing kids and community members who have helped shape me to be a better Brenna.  It has been my mission as Miss Gloucester County to #ScatterKindness and be an accessible role model for kids in the community.  Someday, I would love nothing more than to be able to expand those horizons and bring my platform work and my legacy of kindness to our entire state.  For now, I’d love to share the work I’ve done at the local level!  My Kindness Kids video shows some of the work elementary schoolers have been doing in the community for the past few months!  They have taught me more than I thought possible and I want to thank them for being a part of this journey with me.  Please share in hopes that others can find more ways to give back to their community and follow in these kids'  and my footsteps! 
All my love,