From Foster Care to Miss DC: Pageant Winner Inspires Others

"Growing up, I was always told that I would end up pregnant, that I would never be anything, that I would end up in jail, that I would be homeless"

Before Cordelia Cranshaw became Miss District of Columbia USA, she flashed her winning smile to the judges. But smiling didn't always come easy — she grew up in foster care and was once homeless.

The D.C. pageant winner is a social worker who helps children facing some of the same challenges she did.

"Just looking back at all the things that I was able to overcome, I'm just thrilled that I am where I am today," she said.

Years ahead of the big contest, Cranshaw worked on developing the confidence to compete.

"Growing up, I really felt like I didn't have much confidence. My mother — after her being incarcerated, in and out of my life, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. My dad being an alcoholic," she said.

Cranshaw and her sister were in and out of foster care as children. At 14, she tried to take her life. Frightened, she called 911.

That marked a new beginning. She worked hard in high school, and at 16, she competed in her first pageant. She didn't win, and she said that when you don't feel good about yourself, it's hard to be a winner.

"Growing up, I was always told that I would end up pregnant, that I would never be anything, that I would end up in jail, that I would be homeless. And I just didn't want to end up like that," she said.

She graduated from high school, got scholarships to go to college and graduated from George Mason University. Then, she moved to D.C. and earned a master's degree in social work.

Friends encouraged her to run for Miss D.C. She lost. But she kept trying and won.

Her friend Chelsea Rodgers, a former Miss D.C. herself, urged Cranshaw to go for it.

Rodgers said anyone who thinks pageants are only about evening gowns and swimsuits is wrong.

"Those kinds of things are laughable to me. I am a Supreme Court-licensed, barred attorney," she said.

"Each and every one of these girls that come and compete, this is just one stepping stone in their life. They all have stories. They are social workers, doctors, lawyers, musicians, writers," Rodgers continued.

In addition to fulfilling her duties as Miss D.C., Cranshaw works as an education specialist for the D.C. Child & Family Services Agency. She helps children in foster care work hard in school and use education to advance themselves like she did.

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