Derby Ozioma Chukwudi is making history as a first-generation Nigerian-American crowned Miss New Jersey USA. In her six-month reign, she has traveled statewide to advocate for local causes, meet with political leaders, and inspire youth and teens, all while maintaining her day job as an Investment Strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. And, Derby is a Hoboken Girl. Derby found her home in the Mile-Square City in 2019 and quickly became an active community member. Now, we are excited to send Derby to Miss USA to represent the Garden State and win the crown! The 72nd annual Miss USA competition will air live on Friday, September 29th at 8PM Eastern time on The CW Network. Additionally, Miss Teen USA will be available to stream on the CW app and cwtv.com. Read on for our exciting conversation with Derby Chukwudi as she prepares to compete at Miss USA.
Photo Credit: Derby Chukwudi
The Hoboken Girl: As Miss New Jersey USA, you have a platform to advocate for causes close to your heart. Could you share with us the primary advocacy issue you’ve been championing during your reign, + why it’s important to you?
Derby Chukwudi: My advocacy is financial education — spreading awareness about the importance of being intentional about money, paying attention to money habits, and shaping healthy money mindsets. I am passionate because money plays a huge role in our lives. While it does not buy happiness, it surely determines how happy we will be. We currently do not have sufficient resources in our school systems to prepare young people to be financially confident. With my platform, I hope to contribute to making this financial inclusion a reality in our educational system.
HG: Many pageant title holders have used their titles to raise awareness about social + environmental issues. Can you tell us about any specific initiatives or projects you’ve been involved in to promote your advocacy?
DC: In my reign so far as Miss New Jersey USA, I have played the role of being a beacon of hope and a light to the State of New Jersey. In addition to advocating for the need to raise financially confident citizens, I have also partnered with the National Alliance of Mental Illness to promote awareness of the need to prioritize our mental health. I have participated in several walks for cause, including mental health, brain cancer, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the arts, and much more.
HG: Advocacy often involves collaboration. Who are some individuals or organizations you’ve partnered with to make a positive impact in your community, + how did those partnerships come about?
DC: A lot of the partnerships came about by me being proactive, sharing my story, and networking. I am thankful to all who have made connections on my behalf to get me to where I am. Some organizations I have partnered with include the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Junior Achievement Board of New Jersey, Invest In Girls, African House, the Hoboken Business Alliance, and Best Buddies.
^ Derby with New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, Photo Credit: Derby Chukwudi
HG: Hoboken is a unique + vibrant city. How has your hometown influenced your advocacy work + your perspective on the issues you champion?
DC: Hoboken is such a great place to live in! Every day, I interact with people from diverse backgrounds and I learn that we are all at different starting points in our lives, which is why education is very important to even the playing field. For example, I know people would want to live in Hoboken but, due to the cost of living, may not live in the town. Instead of telling these people to find less expensive options, I have now seen an opportunity to leverage my advocacy for financial education to be an instrument to expand how far such people can dream.
Photo Credit: Derby Chukwudi
HG: With your dedication + commitment, it’s easy to see you as a future Miss USA. Can you paint a picture for us of the impact you hope to make on a national scale + how you’ll continue to represent Hoboken + New Jersey on that stage?
DC: The goal is to expand all the grassroots work I have accomplished in the state of New Jersey while maintaining strong relationships with the sponsors of Miss USA. As it relates to Hoboken and New Jersey, these communities are always in my heart and the strong connections I have will continue to be a source of both opportunity and support.
HG: How has your family’s support + your cultural roots influenced your journey, + what would it mean to you and your loved ones to become Miss USA?
DC: My family and the entire country of Nigeria have been tremendously supportive of my success so far. To them, my reign is an inspiration for them to keep pursuing their dreams, even in times of difficulty. Being crowned as Miss USA would be a historical experience that would shake the world, as it would most likely be the first time a Nigerian-American is crowned. That would be a national reminder to my family and friends that no dreams are out of reach, especially if you are willing to put in the work. As I head to Miss USA, I carry with me the words my parents would always say “cheta ada onye i bu,” which translates to “remember the daughter of whom you are.”
HG: Let’s talk about Hoboken specifically. What do you believe are the most pressing issues facing your hometown, + how can you use your platform to address them?
DC: There are two main issues I have observed since I moved to Hoboken — water main breaks and homelessness. I think we need to reassess the infrastructure we have and allocate sufficient financial resources towards our water mains to ensure that the number of water main breaks is reduced drastically. When small businesses have to close because of main breaks, it affects their livelihood and our community culture. Regarding homelessness, we need to support these people by increasing resources and support to get them back on their feet.
Photo Credit: Derby Chukwudi
HG: As a representative of Hoboken, you must have some favorite local businesses. Can you share a few of your top picks + why you love them?
- Ken Pilates: I always love to stop by to get a workout in. There are always new people to meet, great music, and the vibes are on point.
- T Thai: My favorite Thai restaurant in the city. The staff are consistent and pleasant to interact with.
- Sephora: Although I don’t visit as often as I’d like, being a beauty queen means updating my makeup materials when they are due for a replacement.
- Playa Bowls: I love the Nutella Acai bowl — so good!
- Mint Market: I always stop here for my vintage needs and to get inspiration for my outfits.
HG: Looking beyond Miss USA, many see you as a potential Miss Universe. If you were to hold that prestigious title, what specific initiatives or global causes would you champion, + how would you use that platform to make a positive impact on an international scale?
DC: I will promote financial literacy on the global stage, alongside confidence. At the end of the day, we cannot achieve anything if we are not confident in who we are, why we are here, and what we ought to put our minds towards. With these two focus areas, I believe I will be equipping people with the core skills to be financially confident while fully embracing the essence of who they are.
Miss USA just released the link for the People’s Choice award and Derby is a part of the lineup. To support Derby, click her personal link here.