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Miss New Jersey USA 2023 Derby Chukwudi Is Spreading Her Family Name Across the Globe

April 25, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to Derby Chukwudi, the newly crowned Miss New Jersey USA 2023. This beauty queen is a force to be reckoned with, and she’s here to let us in on her journey to the crown.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Derby and let me tell you, he’s got brains, beauty, and a heart of gold. Derby is a first generation Nigerian-American who’s proud of her Igbo heritage. She’s a travel enthusiast who’s explored 26 U.S. states and four continents: Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. She was one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholars in 2018.

She’s also a speed reader and a fast writer. She says she can read 200 pages of a book in 2 hours and write 500 words in 10 minutes.

In the interview, Derby talks about her experience competing with 118 other talented young women and how she made history by winning the crown on her second try. She also talks about her passions, plans for the future, vision board, journey, and her Nigerian heritage.

Derby is a curious person who always wants to learn something new and is on a journey to becoming.

Dami: Hi Derby, how are you doing today?

Derby: I’m doing well, thanks for asking. How about you?

Dami: I’m doing great, thank you. Congratulations on being crowned Miss New Jersey USA 2023! It’s been a few weeks now, how did you celebrate your win?

Derby: Thank you so much! It still feels surreal. Right after the crowning, I had some friends in the audience who came to celebrate with me, we went out for a quick dinner. As for a more official celebration, my friends threw a surprise party for me, but they had trouble keeping it a surprise because of my busy schedule. I was excited to celebrate with them and see what the year ahead holds.

Dami: That sounds like a lot of fun! For those who will be reading this and may not know you yet, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Derby: My first name is an English name, but I’m Igbo, so my Igbo name is Ozioma, which means good news, and I love it. My full name is Derby Ozioma Chukwudi. I was born in the US, but I grew up in Nigeria, specifically in Lagos, where my whole family lives. After completing a year at the University of Lagos, I left for college in 2015.

I’d say I’m a regular girl who is very curious. I always want to learn something new, and that’s just who I am. My mother was an engineer, but she passed away about 14 years ago. Growing up, I loved learning, helping people, and greeting everyone I met, so people knew me well.

Now, I believe I’m on a journey of becoming, and I’ve built principles of hard work, respect, and helping others in college. I studied economics and business administration, earning a double degree from Berea College, Kentucky. Although it was challenging, I felt it was the right path for me.

I’ve always had the desire to spread my family name across the globe, which led me to explore new places and try new things. I like to challenge myself and try things out of my comfort zone. I believe that if I don’t try, I’ll never know. Hence, I always make sure to give myself that opportunity. This desire also ties into my pageantry story, which we can discuss later.

Currently, I work in finance, but when I’m not working, I enjoy travelling, reading, reflecting, and asking questions.

Dami: Your vision board caught my attention, and I must admit, I like it. Would you mind sharing some insights into its creation and the story behind it?

Derby: Sure. Last year, going into the new year, I felt it was important to take time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t in the previous year. I know people have opinions of the new year and new me, but it’s not about starting over, it’s still the same journey, and you are continuing that. I spent some hours with a friend, and we worked on independent vision boards. For me this year, I decided to pick more words and fewer pictures. Growing up, all I knew about vision boards was a picture of where you wanna be, the kind of car you wanna have or the kind of life you wanna live, and a lot of times you had to stick to those pictures. And while that is cool, I decided to use words that speak to me instead. It was a way of deciding my vision board. It ended up being my background when I work from home, and people will always be like oh what is that, it looks like art, and if I didn’t explain it to them they won’t get it. For me, that was the idea behind the vision board. The vision board, in particular, is a reminder of the mission that I am on, and I am still trying to uncover what that is this year.

Dami: That’s awesome. It’s amazing to see that some of the things you wrote, such as ‘travel’ and ‘live loud,’ are already becoming a reality in your life.

Derby: Yes.

Dami: When was the last time you visited Nigeria, and what are the things you miss about the country as a Nigerian?

Derby: The last time I was in Nigeria was December 2021, but before then, I was away for four years. Nigeria is full of life, and when I am here or even going to work, even in pageantry, I’m like wow, we did that. Nigerians are everywhere, trying to innovate, and I love that about us. We are fearless, we are bold. I also love the vibes, the events, the creativity, and the people. Those are the things I miss. And the food, of course. How can you not gain weight when you eat so many delicious foods? I do love Nigeria, and I am hopeful for the country, and I know we have a long way to go, but I am optimistic that we’re going to get there.

Dami: You have a double degree in Business Administration and Economics. How do you plan to use your education and skills as Miss New Jersey 2023?

Derby: I work in finance, and I use my skills in strategy, decision-making, and figuring out where to invest time and resources. As Miss New Jersey USA, I want to elevate my work by promoting financial literacy. Money drives everything, and I want to encourage people to think about their beliefs and attitudes towards money. Financial literacy isn’t just about budgeting and investing, it’s also about your mindset. As for my story, I’m still reflecting on it, but I know that if you dream and put in the work, opportunities will come. I tell people to focus on skills rather than degrees because the world is constantly evolving. Communication is crucial, even if you run your own business. I want to democratize information and show people that anything is possible.

Dami: You made some valid points. I got distracted for a bit though. I mean your skin, the glow. What’s your skincare routine, please?

Derby: When I visited Nigeria in 2021, one of my big sisters, recommended that I meet her skincare lady. After inspecting my skin, the lady recommended a simple routine of moisturizer, serum, and Vitamin C. I’ve learned that consistency is key to great skin, and I try to follow this routine every day. It’s not about using a lot of products, but about being consistent and staying hydrated. Working out, even with simple exercises like jumping jacks, is also important for overall health.

Dami: I will keep that in mind from now on. Thank you for the advice. The pageant world can be quite competitive. How did you manage to make friends with the other contestants? Did you learn anything from them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derby: I believe there’s something to learn from everyone, regardless of their background. When I competed for the first time in 2021, I came in with an open mind and a willingness to learn. I didn’t want my lack of experience to hold me back. I tried to connect with people to who I felt drawn, rather than trying to talk to everyone. It’s a competition, you’re not there just to make friends, but it’s important to strike a balance. I found that the most successful contestants were the ones who focused on strategizing and rehearsing their interviews and performances, rather than being overly chatty.

I connected with a fellow contestant who has been a huge part of my pageant journey. We stayed friends even two years after the competition. The other contestants were doing amazing things in their own lives, like being in the military, medical school, finance, college, and owning businesses. It was a great networking opportunity. However, I also recognized the trap of comparison, which can be detrimental to your mental health. It’s important to be authentic, treat others well, and focus on your journey. At the end of the day, it’s not about competing against others but challenging yourself to do something different and succeed at it.

Dami: I agree with you. So, what do you think is the biggest misconception about pageants? For example, let’s say in Nigeria, if you mention to your parents that you want to participate in a pageant, many older millennials or baby boomers assume it means you want to wear a bikini on TV, especially if they are religious or traditional. What misconceptions have you come across, and how do you address them?

Derby: I think a lot of people believe that pageants are only about beauty and not intelligence, but pageants have been around for many years with a rich history that dates back even before my time. What drew me in was the process of preparing for the competition. It’s almost like sports. It tests your commitment, and ability to stretch yourself and be creative. It builds you in the best way possible. Everything is challenging, including pageantry. You have to give interviews that last for two and a half minutes in front of seven judges and 120 other girls, and you need to be memorable. People don’t understand the intricacies that go into it, the preparation, and the strategy. I had to plan every single day, and it takes work. Yes, you can do a day in life, but that doesn’t capture the full picture. Some days, you’ll be tired, and balancing a full-time job with pageantry is challenging. People don’t appreciate how much work goes into it. When people ask, “Why pageantry in 2023?” I say it’s a great way to network, meet people, and build confidence. Many people don’t have the confidence to finish what they start, and pageantry gives you that opportunity. It leaves you feeling like, “Wow, I can do that. I said I was going to do it, and I did it. Here I am, the weekend is over, and my work is finished.”

At the pageant weekend, I made it my only goal to finish my work and leave no crumbs on the table. If it comes with the crown, that’s amazing, but if it doesn’t, I still finished what I started. People don’t understand that these are core skills that translate into other areas of life, like leadership, entrepreneurship, and more. I draw that connection, and I can bring it to the real world. It’s not just about beauty; it’s about beauty, brains, and resilience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dami: I have two more questions for you. On your Instagram, I noticed that you have a dedicated account for books and you seem to be an avid reader. Can you tell me about your favourite books written by African authors?

Derby: I’m not sure if I can narrow it down to five, but I’ll try. The first book is “The Urgent Life” by Bozoma Saint John. It’s a memoir about the author’s life, and I enjoyed reading about her struggles and how she became successful. I also like to read about people’s lives and get into their minds. If I could have one superpower, I’d choose to read minds because it would help me understand people better. Another book I read in 2020 was “Tomorrow Died Yesterday” by Chimeka Garricks. It’s a creative and tactful exploration of the exploitation of the oil industry in the Niger Delta. “Nearly All the Men in Lagos Are Mad” is another book I would recommend. It explores people’s stories and their relationships with men. Men play a critical role in society, and I think we should raise the standards for how they treat women. “In Every Mirror She’s Black” by Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a book that tells the stories of three black women and their challenges. Finally, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s book, “Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous,” talks about how to get things done, the challenges you face, and the importance of having critical people to make decisions. These books cover multiple genres, including economics, finance, politics, societal issues, and true-life stories. I believe reading makes you a better conversationalist, and that’s why I recommend these books.

Dami: Thank you. My last question is, if you had to summarize your life right now into a song, what song would that be?

Derby: That’s a great question. I recently made a post on Instagram using Andra Day‘s “Rise Up,” and I think that song captures my life. I feel like I am a fighter, and even when life knocks me down, I always rise up. I’m excited for each new day because I know tomorrow is another opportunity to make progress. Even when things are tough, I never let them pull me down. I remind myself that things could always get better. I also take comfort in the Bible verse that says, “All things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” To sum it up, “Rise Up” would be my song. No matter what happens, I’m always rising up.

Dami: Thank you so much, Derby. I enjoyed speaking with you. (BellaNaija)

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