Derby Chukwudi: Walk That Walk
In a remarkable journey that transcends borders and inspires dreams, our spotlight feature, Derby Chukwudi, has achieved the extraordinary. From the vibrant streets of Lagos to the glittering stage of Miss New Jersey, she became the first to hold the title and compete at Miss USA, her story is one of resilience, ambition, and a determination to shatter barriers.
She sits down with ‘The Guardian Life’ to delve into her inspiring tale of triumph and grace, as she wears her Miss New Jersey crown with pride, representing the diverse tapestry of talent and beauty that defines the Garden State.
Tell us about your journey from being a Nigerian model to winning the title of Miss New Jersey.
I didn’t model officially until 2021 but people always called me Agbani Darego growing up and in college, everyone thought I was a model. In 2021, I sought a new challenge to learn, extend myself, network, and inspire people. The opportunity to compete at Miss New Jersey USA came up and I embraced it totally despite having doubts. Life is all about taking risks and rising up to challenges and this was my version of saying yes!
What were some of the challenges you faced during your time as Miss New Jersey, and how did you overcome them?
Being Miss New Jersey USA has been such a life-changing experience and I’m so thankful to be one of the select few that get to have this experience. As a titleholder, being able to prioritize, be intentional, and balance different responsibilities is very key and I have learned to be present with the experiences I am garnering but also have realised that I have more responsibilities and expectations on my title so I need to be intentional about my time, elevate my time management skills and also be strategic about the long term impact of my reign.
Can you share with us the emotions and significance of this moment for you and your aspiring models?
It was a moment to show the world especially my Nigerian women that this is what the face of possibilities looks like. I was honoured to have this opportunity and showcase African beauty on an American stage authentically. Having my family and friends in the audience was very emotional because to us all, we were living a dream that never would have crossed our minds of being reality. I think it serves as a reminder to everyone out there that there is no limit to how far you can go if you are willing to dream big, believe, work hard and trust that God the giver of dreams will also align things in your favour to make them happen.
How did your Nigerian heritage influence your journey in the pageant world, and how did it shape your platform as Miss New Jersey?
I like to acknowledge my parents’ influence on my life and one thing I’d always remember them say is ‘cheta ada onye i bu’ translated as “remember the daughter of whom you.” Throughout my pageant competitions and reign as Miss New Jersey USA, I have prioritised showcasing authenticity and culture while embracing the impact of diversity in our communities. One of the easiest ways I’ve been able to show this has been through fashion. Fashion to me is a statement of my ideas, identity, and style. I want young girls to look back and see there was once a queen that looked like them who embraced her heritage, hair, accent, and everything about her roots.
What role do you believe diversity and representation play in the pageant industry, and how have you contributed to promoting diversity during your pageant journey?
Diversity is a non-negotiable when it comes to the pageantry. The world needs to see all shades of beauty and style. Personally, I ensure that every style is representative of my style, presence, and essence of who I am so that I feel authentic. By being a representative of African heritage in New Jersey, many women have seen that there are no strict definitions of beauty and we all can be beautiful in authentic ways.
What advice would you give to other young women, especially those of Nigerian descent, who aspire to pursue a career in modelling and pageantry?
Beauty is not just physical, but inside out. True beauty is found in a person who embraces all aspects of their life and understands the power of being different, unique, and confident. Take good care of yourself – exercise, eat healthy, drink water, and skincare is a must. Dream big but make sure to know your values and never compromise on them. While it is exciting to be on a runway or on a magazine cover, it is more important to stand for your values and build off that.
How can the pageant industry evolve to be more inclusive and representative of diverse backgrounds and cultures?
We should embrace different styles and empower women to find beauty in their uniqueness. There shouldn’t be a focus on one standard of beauty – there is the power of diversity. An open mind to any initial biases will get us to this point.