USC Master of Social Work student Amanda Cockrell comes from a family with a history of helping others.
Her grandmother helped introduce family planning in West Africa, opening clinics and delivery centers while teaching people about pregnancy and contraception. Cockrell’s mother continues to run one of the clinics, offering vaccinations, surgeries and general treatment for the people of Dakar and doing her best never to turn down anyone who cannot afford care. Cockrell wants to continue this legacy of helping people in need and bringing awareness to their plights
So she caught some off guard when she announced that her plan included pageants.
“Pageants often get a bad reputation for being shallow and appearance-oriented, but so many more factors are contributing elements for someone to win a title,” said Cockrell, who attends the USC School of Social Work’s Orange County Academic Center. “Pageant contestants must have a heart for service. I have an amazing opportunity to spread my ideals.”
Earlier this year, Cockrell was named Miss Southern Cal and will be competing for Miss California in January. She also will be traveling to Italy this month to represent the United States in the Miss Progress International pageant, which unites contestants inspired to make the world a better place to live and invites them to submit a project proposal to solve a social issue in one of four areas, including the environment, health, human rights or the integration of cultures. Winners are awarded funds, in part, based on the feasibility of their proposals.
“Whether I win or not, Miss Progress International, as well as Miss Southern Cal, are amazing platforms to bring up social issues that are close to my heart,” she said. “The pageants bring together women who spend much of their time helping others and being advocates.”
Finding support around the world
Since she began participating in pageants two years ago, Cockrell has found them to be a tremendous resource. She credits pageants with helping her network and meet people from across the world who could help support her and her causes.
Cockrell’s upcoming pageant campaign will focus on empowering women through education, another issue that has transcended generations in her family. But beyond just a platform to spread her message, pageants have also given Cockrell a chance to improve herself.
“Both pageants and social work have tested my limits and have made me become a more resilient and better-equipped individual,” she said. “This testing has been key in making me a more competent social worker.”
Perhaps not as flashy as some pageant titles, what Miss Progress International lacks in glitz is made up in substance. There is no talent competition, but Cockrell will have her moment in the spotlight to promote women’s education, a platform she takes seriously, having attended school in Senegal and seeing the impact of gender disparities in schooling. Investing in girls’ education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty, she said.
For now, she’s working on her confidence.
“Participating in a pageant was the last thing I had ever imagined doing,” she said. “[But] I am a firm believer in challenging myself and stepping out of my comfort zone. I can assure you that walking around a stage in a bikini was the furthest thing from my mind, which is why I chose to do it.”