CHICAGO (CBS) — Despite Chicago’s challenges, or perhaps motivated by the city’s current state of affairs, young local leaders are emerging and they are determined to play a key role in shaping the future. With grit and resilience, they advocate for causes they care about and encourage their peers to do the same. One such disruptor is Jaela Adkins. Children’s health advocate and soon-to-be college freshman, Jaela shares misconceptions about pageant winners, her hopes for Chicago, and how confidence comes from within.

*Interview condensed and edited for clarity.


Photo Credit: DazzleShot Images

How did you start competing in pageants?
At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia, a common side effect of cancer treatment. I was no longer able to participate in sports, and I began to lose my hair and lose weight from the medicine. I was not confident or comfortable with my appearance. When I got my strength back, my aunt found a pageant online and signed me up. I was nervous and thought I was not pretty enough to compete. I overcame my fear and ended up winning!

What do you hope other people know about pageants?
Pageants are not what you see on TV. The purpose of a beauty pageant is to promote community service, provide educational opportunities through scholarships, create lifelong friendships, and build confidence.

How did you become an anti-bullying advocate?
Today, bullying is everywhere. Some young children do not want to attend school and some are committing suicide from bullying. I hope we bring more awareness to the issue. We have to educate our youth and limit social media use at a young age.

Why are you focusing on the issues like childhood cancer and immune disorders?
Before I became a patient, I was not aware of children having cancer or being as sick as I was. A little under 4% of childhood cancer research is funded by the government. Maybe if there was more awareness of childhood cancer, it would receive more funding! Every day, dozens of children are diagnosed with cancer. These children are in desperate need of more funding.

What’s your biggest hope for Chicago?
To decrease the violence. Every day, young men and women are losing their lives to gun violence.

What’s next for you?
This summer, I’ll be traveling to Tennessee to compete for the International Junior Miss title. I’ll also be finishing my phlebotomy courses to become a certified phlebotomist. Then I will be on my way to college! I’ll be attending Clark Atlanta University in the fall, majoring in pre-med and minoring in Spanish. I hope to become a pediatric oncologist/hematologist.

What do you love most about Chicago?
The FOOD. Although the scenery is gorgeous, I love the Chicago hot dog, the deep-dish pizza…just everything!

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