For Shelby Jenkins, winning the title of Miss Black Kentucky 2012 gives her a chance to share one of the most personal details about herself, something she often hid from her childhood friends.
“I didn’t want to explain myself, but when I got this title, I felt like I got it for a reason, and I really wanted to reach out to kids in foster care,” the 21-year-old said last week, standing on the Capitol steps.
“I just want to let it out – I’m adopted.”
The recent Kentucky State University graduate, who was adopted out of foster care at 4 months old by her parents, Patrice and Gregory Jenkins, used to worry about being judged for her background.
People thought she looked like her adoptive dad anyway, so she just “went with it.”
Now, as Miss Black Kentucky 2012, she hopes to reach out to kids who feel the same apprehension. She’s made it her platform, and hopes to find ways to work with kids in foster care in Frankfort.
“I wanted to reach out to (kids dealing with) adoption and foster care, especially the girls, because I don’t want their self-esteem to go down,” she said.
“Some foster care kids jump from house to house to house, and they feel like they don’t have a chance in life. I don’t want anyone to feel that way – if I had a chance, everybody has a chance and all opportunities are open.”
Shelby, originally from Miami, Fla., says her parents decided to adopt when they found out they couldn’t have children.
They also adopted her brother Dion, but around the same time, her mother became pregnant with a daughter. The family named her Nia, which means purpose.
“I don’t feel different at all,” Shelby said. “Me and my dad act just alike, think just alike, and I feel like I look just like my father. You would never know until you asked.”
She also followed in her mother’s footsteps by enrolling at KSU and joining the K-Rettes, the dance team that performs with the Marching Thorobred Band.
KSU is also where she entered her first pageant, earning the Miss Kappa Kappa Psi crown two years ago.
She loved appearing in parades, waving to spectators, wearing formal dresses and doing community service, so she decided to enter the Miss Black Kentucky pageant around this time last year.
The selection process included interviews, written biographies and recommendation letters. Shelby was named runner-up, but stepped in a few months ago when the original winner lost her crown – Shelby said she doesn’t know why the young woman was disqualified.
Now Shelby is preparing for the Miss Black USA pageant in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 13. She’s practicing her talent – a dance routine – and readying her wardrobe.
“You also want to make sure you have a supportive team behind your back,” she said.
“I have a lot of people on my team, my friends, my family, and a lot of friends from Miami, Fla., who I grew up with and my church family there at Bethel Full Gospel Baptist Church.”
Shelby faces 49 other women, one from each state, and says she’s “extremely excited” to meet them and compete for the crown. The pageant has crowned winners since 1987 and hands out $20,000 in scholarships and prizes to contestants.
“I’m hoping to win Miss Black USA and reach out to Kentucky and do more community service and show women of color that we’re able to succeed in life,” Shelby said.
Shelby plans to stay in Frankfort for the next two years. She’s pursuing a master’s degree in business from KSU, in hopes of one day becoming a hospital executive.
Hospital work first caught her interest when she helped care for her 99-year-old great-grandmother.
“When I saw the smile on her face, it made me happy, and then I started volunteering in the ER at Frankfort Regional Medical Center,” she said.
“The patients that I dealt with were just amazing – I loved it, and I love to help people and talk to people.”
She works full-time now as the front desk receptionist at Capital Surgical Clinic and a unit clerk on the fourth floor at Frankfort Regional Medical Center.
Her ultimate goal is to earn a doctorate in public health.
“Education, to me, is the key to success, and it’s the key to life.”
Contact Shelby at MissBlackKentucky2012@yahoo.com or 707-797-7666 to book appearances.