By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

Cordelia Cranshaw was crowned Miss District of Columbia USA on Dec. 8, yet her road to queen was not easy.  Having already worked to empower young people through her own story and growth, Cranshaw is now using her platform to further inspire others.

Cranshaw, is one out of 18 siblings from Alexandria, Va.; however, life was not always one big happy family.

Cordelia Cranshaw, who was in foster care until the age of 21, was crowned Miss D.C. on Dec. 8.

“My mother was sentenced to 10 years in prison when I was 12 and my father was a struggling alcoholic,” Cranshaw, 26, told the AFRO.  This resulted in me entering the foster care system and aging out at the age of 21.”

Just five years ago, Cranshaw was in the foster care system, and now she has dedicated her work to helping children who face some of the issues she did as a child.  She works as an education specialist at D.C. Child and Family Services and has her own organization that assists youth traditionally considered, “at risk,” by providing them tools to make it beyond their current struggles.

“I am the founder, president and CEO of Acts of Random Kindness (ARK). ARK’s mission is to bridge the gaps in the community by providing programs and resources to children and families facing life challenges that include incarcerated parents, foster care and living in poverty.”

Some of the programs include, “iCan,” a program targeting males of color in Wards 7 and 8, and “iWill,” which will launch in 2019 and focus on young women and co-parenting programming.

The current Miss D.C. moved to the District after graduating from George Mason University. Then she started ARK and obtained a master of social work from the University of Maryland Baltimore Advance Standing Social Work program.  After all that hard work and establishing the nation’s capital as her new home, Cranshaw witnessed a lot that led to her current title.

“When I was an assistant director for a nonprofit organization focusing on improving the education outcomes for foster youth, I worked with several youth who were from the District. I saw so much talent in these youth, yet so much pain that was holding them back from success,” she told the AFRO.

Historically defying odds and taking risks despite her personal pain, Cranshaw’s first pageant was in 2009 competing as a teen when she was still in the foster care system.  As an adult seeing the needs of the youth, she felt pageantry would be another way to embolden young people.  Perseverance has been the name of Cranshaw’s game as it’s been almost ten years since her first pageant when she was in foster care.  Now she’s a winning queen.

“I first competed in 2015 for the 2016 title and didn’t place out of 16 beautiful young women. I continued to persevere, competing for the 2017 and 2018 title, where I left placing 4th runner up during both competitions. I didn’t let that outcome deter me from reaching my goal and I am officially now Miss District of Columbia USA 2019, ten years after entering the world of pageantry,” Cranshaw explained to the AFRO.

With the Miss D.C. platform, Cranshaw is hoping to get her message of perseverance out to the masses.

“My first priority is to inspire others to persevere. No matter what life challenges you face, no matter how negative the circumstances are, we can always turn negatives into positives,” she said. “I will travel to the local schools, sharing my experiences and tools for success. I want to instill hope into those who feel hopeless and motivate those who want to turn their dreams into reality. I believe we are all only one resource away from reaching our dreams.”

The persistent pageant queen is living her dream despite difficult life events and has advice for young women hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“Use your circumstances as motivation and do not let your situation determine where you go in life, especially those facing difficult ones,” she said.

“Self-confidence is from within and loving yourself first will give you all the hope you need to accomplish your goals and turn your dreams into reality.”