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This Hoboken Resident is Competing in Miss NJ This Weekend

by Matthew Cunningham
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The Miss New Jersey USA pageant is just around the corner and it’s time to meet one of the contestants, Derby Chukwudi, a resident of Hoboken, who’s ready to make a difference and slay the competition. With her infectious personality and killer talents, this Hoboken resident is on a mission to empower other women and prove that dreams really do come true. Derby, who is originally from Nigeria and attended college in Kentucky, found her home in Hoboken in 2019 and has since become an active member of the community. She loves the city’s heart for community and making thousands of people feel like a small family. As a Black woman, Derby hopes to convey a message of hope that opportunities exist for people who look like her and that their dreams are valid. Derby shared some details with The Hoboken Girl about her journey to the Miss New Jersey USA stage, her preparations for the pageant, which takes place this week, and what it means to represent West Hudson County and Hoboken. Read on for our conversation with Derby Chukwudi for an inspiring conversation about pursuing dreams and making a difference.

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(Photo credit: @georginavaughanphotography)

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The Hoboken Girl: How did you decide to compete in the Miss New Jersey pageant?

Derby Chukwudi: My decision to compete at Miss New Jersey USA started in 2019 — I didn’t know much about pageants, and I found myself googling some of them to learn more about them. In 2021, I was invited for an interview with the Miss New Jersey organization, after which I got invited as a State finalist.

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Initially, it was a tough decision to make because I recognized that I would be putting myself out there in public, and it was nerve-racking to think about it. However, I looked within to identify the real reason why I would like to be Miss New Jersey USA, and I found out that I am on a journey to inspire, empower, and show people that their dreams are valid.

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Later in 2021, I competed in the pageant — met so many amazing women, and also realized that I had made the right decision to compete. So many people reached out to me to express how inspired they were just by following my journey. Now, I am coming to the Miss New Jersey USA stage after taking a break last year. The goal remains the same — to inspire, empower, and show people that their dreams are valid. I began a journey back in 2021, and I am returning to continue that journey because it is only once it is over.

derby chukwudi

(Photo credit: @georginavaughanphotography)

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Read More: After 7 Years of Competing, Hoboken Resident Crowned Miss NJ USA

HG: What does it mean to you to represent West Hudson County + Hoboken in the Miss New Jersey pageant? How has Hoboken influenced you, and what do you love most about the community?

DC: 3.5 years ago, Hoboken became my new home. Having grown up in Nigeria, attended college in Kentucky, and spent so many college holidays across different states and a few countries, Hoboken became home in 2019. I remember when I first got my apartment after college, my heart literally relieved, and it felt like it said, “finally, I have my home.”

Hoboken has been a safe place for me to live, relax, run, try new things, and meet people. I love the community events that the leadership of the city and businesses host — like the Hoboken Arts Festival is one of my favorites because I get to interact with businesses, try products, and have a good time while still being in Hoboken. During the summers, I love the Movies Under the Stars. Hoboken has a heart for community and making thousands of people feel like a small family — that is truly special.

Having lived here for a while, being able to represent West Hudson County, which includes Hoboken, is an honor and an opportunity for me to give my time, talent, and treasure to a city that has provided an opportunity for me to find a peaceful home and space. I am excited to showcase on the Miss New Jersey USA that West Hudson County does it best, including bringing talented people with diverse backgrounds and passionate hearts for service.

HG: As a Black woman, what does it mean to you to compete in the Miss New Jersey pageant, + what message do you hope to convey to young women of color who may be watching the competition?

DC: My story and message are one of showcasing hope that my dreams are valid and the opportunities that exist for people who look like me are endless. The road to such opportunities may be difficult, but it is not impossible. I represent various talents like writing, public speaking, abstract painting, reading, mentorship, etc. My goal is for other Black women to see me on that stage and say — “Yes, it is possible. My dreams are valid, and I will go for it.” When people see me on that stage, I hope they see a future where the color of their skin, or texture of their hair, or the sound of their accent does not limit how far they can go.

derby chukwudi

(Photo credit: @georginavaughanphotography)

HG: How has your preparation been for the Miss New Jersey pageant, + what have you been doing to get ready? Can you walk us through your journey to this point in the competition?

DC: My preparation never ended since the 2021 Miss New Jersey USA pageant because I never stopped. Pageantry has changed my perspective on life, and it is the only activity so far that I have engaged in that touches all aspects of your life. There are no masks in pageantry — everyone sees through and understands this — a lot of my prep was focused on my thoughts, mindset, motivation, and the broader picture of where I’d like my life to be. Some of the things I have done to cover the above things I mentioned were to try new things, take on challenges, travel more, read more books, and spend some time reflecting. I spent time reviewing how I speak to myself and identifying thoughts in my head because I am my biggest self-critic.

Closer to the pageant, I spent time building a great team to help me through this journey, and part of the team includes — Celinda Ortega, my coach, who I met at the pageant in 2021. She is fantastic, very thorough, and isn’t afraid of giving you hard feedback. I had worked with her previously the year before, and we worked well, I found her tips helpful, and we saw results. Another instrumental team member is Jamez Eli — he is the most multi-talented person I have met and worked with so far — he is my MUA, stylist, hair stylist, and a trusted partner. It was also critical to work with a photographer that could capture my essence when it came to my headshot, and I had the pleasure of working with both Georgina Vaughn and Olivia Rose — they both understood the assignment. To be black in pageantry means having a photographer who understands how to showcase your true beauty, and most times, we don’t always get the quality of outcomes that we want.

HG: Who are some women who have inspired you throughout your life + why?

DC: Many women have inspired me and continue to inspire me throughout my life. First on that list would be my mother (RIP) — she epitomized excellence, poise, intellect, authentic leadership, and so much more. She instilled core values of integrity, diligence, hard work, and grace in me while growing up. Currently, I work on Wall Street at JPMorgan Private Bank, and I have several female mentors and sponsors who inspire me to not only work hard but to recognize that every day is an opportunity to open the door of opportunities for other women to walk in.

My sisters — Adaobi Obani and Onaedo Chukwuid, are real heroes in their unique journeys, and I am honored to be their little sisters. They both showcase tenacity, resilience, and leadership as life demands them. I also have women who have helped instill confidence in me and remind me of my identity in Jesus Christ, some of which are Skip McDonald, Osemene Burnett, and Inibasi Leye. My peers who show up daily, no matter what is going on, to pursue their dreams, goals, and aspirations — all inspire me to be a better version of myself. I cannot do life alone without the amazing women across the spectrum of ages, races, skill sets, backgrounds, and nationalities that have been part of my journey. I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many intentional and impactful women.

derby chukwudi

(Photo credit: @georginavaughanphotography)

HG: How has your local sponsor, Ken Pilates, helped you prepare for the pageant, + what role has Pilates played in your training?

DC: I remember in early December 2022, researching pilates options in Hoboken, and I came across the Ken Pilates website — I stopped immediately. I decided I would take my first class to see what the experience is like. Mind you, I had never taken any pilates class. It blew my mind — Ken was friendly, warm, and welcoming. They are way too funny sometimes but very effective as an instructor. They challenge me while encouraging me on the efforts I have put in. After my first class, I decided to take more classes. I specifically asked for private sessions because I wanted a tailored experienced that focused on specific areas of my body we wanted to work on. Over time, we can see the growth — it has been about two months and 14 classes later, and I can confidently say I am more robust, and I can do the exercises effectively — while this is great, it is a reminder for Ken to give me more challenging exercises.

It has never been easy, but working with a supportive team and being willing to go all the way with you makes it worthwhile. During classes, I get to select my playlist to set the vibe and atmosphere — it has been phenomenal. I am a firm believer of doing what works for you, and for me, doing pilates, home workouts, and some runs was what worked for me, my schedule, and my headspace. Thank you, Ken Pilates, for being one of the sponsors of my Miss New Jersey USA pageant journey and for believing in me.

HG: Can you tell us about a defining moment in your life that led you to where you are today?

DC: A major pivotal moment in my life was losing my mother at age 11 — I was young, and at such an age, I had to grow up fast and make a decision on the kind of life I would want to live. I decided that the legacy of my mother lives in me, and I was an example of the saying that goes, “dreams never die.” So I decided to work hard, do hard things, and make my mother proud even in her absence. In moments when I want to give up, face challenges, or have little clarity on what’s next, I remind myself that I am my mother’s daughter and there is always something greater than myself in anything I do. With this perspective, I am encouraged to let my line shine and impact everyone I interact with. My mother was and still is a big inspiration — though she is no longer with us, she lives in me.

HG: What are you most looking forward to during the Miss New Jersey pageant, + what can we expect from you on stage?

DC: I look forward to reconnecting with some old friends and making new ones. Most of the women I met back in 2021 are still friends today, and it is really amazing what one weekend can do — it literally changed my life and expanded my network. I’m excited to continue networking and celebrating other amazing women. I’m excited to share my story of hope to the judges — despite the short time spent interacting with the judges, I am so ready to let me know why Miss New Jersey USA is a path I have decided to take on.

On stage — you can expect to see a woman who has put in the work of preparation, one who is confidently beautiful, and one who is ready to have fun — it has been a ride so far to get it. The stage really will be a showcase of the fantastic work that has been invested in for the past few months.

derby chukwudi

(Photo credit: @georginavaughanphotography)

See More: Meet The North Jersey Native Behind Bracelet Brand Little Words Project

HG: Finally, what are some Hoboken businesses that you love? How can individuals + local businesses in the community support you?

DC: I’d have to start with Ken Pilates — it has been an amazing time supporting Ken and their team in this endeavor. I have seen resilience and tenacity shine through in the past few months I’ve been working with the team. Shout out to T Thai — I love Thai food, and T Thai gets me. A not-so-fun fact is that I don’t eat eggs, and I’m very sure I’m the only one that doesn’t in Hoboken. Whenever I call in to place an order, they know who I am and are always excited to serve. Another one is Carlo’s Bakery – whenever I want to give myself a part on my back for a job well done, I order a slice of red velvet cake — you can never go wrong. I love so many of the businesses in Hoboken, and I am looking forward to partnering with more businesses as I make my journey to Miss USA.

Miss New Jersey USA is in a few days — I encourage people to follow me on Instagram (derbychukwudi__), to follow the journey to the crown. Also, the people’s choice voting link is open until March 18th at 11:59PM ET — please vote to get me into the semifinals, but most importantly, towards the cause of mental health, which is a focus for the Miss New Jersey USA organization this year.

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