Miss USA 2016 speaks at McNair High School

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For Miss USA 2016, motivational speaker and United States Army Reserve Captain Deshauna Barber, the secret to success is consistent self-love, being “on the grind” early and addressing skeletons in the closet.

Barber spoke to McNair High School female students on Oct. 19 as part of an empowerment discussion. Students were encouraged to discuss topics introduced by Barber with their mentors, parents, friends and colleagues.

Barber was crowned Miss USA in 2016 at the age of 26. She said her beauty pageant career began at age 19 while folding clothes at a department store in college and being noticed by a manager.

“I had never seen a pageant in my life,” Barber said. “She convinced me to enter into my very first pageant three months later. First pageant? Lost. Second pageant? Lost. Third pageant?

Lost. Fourth pageant? Lost. Fifth pageant, guess what happened? I lost…In December 2015, [at 25] I win Miss District of Columbia, USA. In 2016, I win Miss USA.”

Barber said perseverance, tenacity and resilience characterize her life and contributed to her success. At an early age, Barber said she struggled with self-esteem because of a bully at school and abuse by a family member.

Barber said during her senior year in high school, she witnessed a classmate throw herself in front of a train after falling victim to bullying. She said current students are even more prone to bullying because of social media.

“Let me be clear, there is not one thing cool about being a bully,” Barber said. “The problem with bullies is they’re suffering on the inside, so they want everyone else to suffer with them. It’s not OK. You have absolutely no idea what’s going on at someone’s house… You have no idea what people are going through.”

Barber told students that those who were bullied for being “nerds,” or “dorks,” are today’s millionaires.

Barber instructed students to focus on themselves and their own successes and to be careful of the company they keep. She related a story about a friend who was pulled over and subsequently sent to jail because a friend was in possession of marijuana.

She instructed students to focus on education rather than being one of the “cool” kids. Barber, who holds a master’s degree, told students she makes more than $100,000 each year because she begrudgingly educated herself.

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“I worked my butt off for years so I can chill, come to your high school and talk,” Barber said. “The reality is, as a double minority like we all are, you need to understand you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get as far as everyone else—you have to realize that. But you also have to realize you can be anything you want to be. If you want to build a rocket ship, be the next Miss USA, the next Michelle Obama, the next Hillary Clinton—If you put your mind to it, you can do it. But you have to be ready to grind.”

Barber described unsubsidized loans at colleges—designed for low-income and bad credit families—as the value of investing in one’s self. She said it’s worth the risk for an education.
Barber finished her speech by relating her tale of abuse. She told students her abuser did not care about her struggles growing up—dating, having a false body image and a dwindling self-esteem—and the only opinion about the instance that mattered was her own.

“While I’m sitting around thinking about this every single day, struggling with it, he was at home chilling and as happy as can be,” Barber said. “I realized that forgiveness is not about [the person you’re forgiving], forgiveness is for you. If there are skeletons in your closet, whether it’s bullying, whether it’s abuse, whether it’s mental, physical or emotional abuse by parents—to be successful, you have to pull those skeletons out and address them.”

Barber’s sister Brittney Caldwell is a history teacher at McNair High. She said she facilitated Barber’s speech with the purpose of inspiring students to believe in themselves.

“When I was in high school, which was not that long ago, one of the biggest things I struggled with was my self-esteem and feeling good about myself,” Caldwell said. “I know a lot of girls here deal with the same problems. One of the people who helped me the most with this is my big sister.”

Barber, who has been a motivational speaker for approximately five months, said she was inspired to share her stories with others following the death of her mother. She counts speaking at high schools to inspire young Black women as one of her finest accomplishments.

“My joy in life is to tell [students] the things I wish someone had told me when I was in high school,” Barber said. “The reality is, I was bullied, I was abused as a child, I had a lot of self-esteem issues and I really, really, wish I had someone I could see as a peer but also someone who had gone through a hefty amount of struggle.”

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