Tell us about yourself, Derby
My names are Derby Ozioma Chukwudi. I was born in Dallas, TX, and raised in Nigeria (my hometown is Enugu Mmaku in Enugu state). I attended college in the US at Berea College, where I studied Economics and Business. I have always been fascinated by the economy, education, empowerment, mentorship, and community development. When I am not working, you can find me reading, traveling, writing, spending time with friends, and dancing. I believe that life is to be lived, so I am constantly looking for new opportunities to challenge myself in new ways.
Congratulations on your new crown as Miss New Jersey USA 2023, tell us, how did it all start?
Thank you! In 2019, one of my friends competed in Miss Nigeria USA, and I thought it would be a cool check-the-box experience to have in my twenties. Alas, Miss Nigeria USA did not organize a pageant in the following year, and then the Global pandemic hit. While browsing the internet, I came across Miss New York USA and applied. I had no idea what the USA pageant was about. Months later, I received a response, and my application was re-routed to the Miss New Jersey USA pool since I lived in New Jersey. This experience eventually happened in 2021 when I decided to accept the invitation to compete. I remember during my initial preparation; it took me understanding “my why” to motivate me throughout that process. What was once a cool experience for me to have turned into a mission-fueled journey to inspire young women (and men) around the world to dream big and believe that their dreams are valid.
As a young black woman in America competing for such a position, what are the major challenges you faced and how did you feel at the time you made this decision?
I think the major challenge for me to overcome was not getting in my head and replaying narratives of how it was impossible for a Black woman to win the title. When I made the decision to compete this year, I was excited, and the goal was to have fun and do my absolute best the entire weekend. My mindset had shifted from focusing on whether I could win the crown or not to focusing on completing the work I had come to do. In 2021, I started a work that I came to finish this year, and that was a priority. I came prepared and knew what my styling for outfits and hair was for the entire weekend. I freed myself from any comments that have screamed impossible.
So many individuals in Africa have most definitely tried this line of work but didn’t come through, what has been your motivation?
My motivation was to inspire people and show them that the possibilities are endless. In the past two years in this field, I have learned that preparation is of utmost importance. In addition to being prepared, it is critical to be authentic – you cannot try to be someone else and expect to win. I am comfortable with who I am, and I proudly showcase this confidence by being myself. The last thing is that I followed my intellectual curiosity; I like to know what it takes to win and eventually experience it myself. With Miss New Jersey USA, that’s exactly what I did. I can assure you if you are thoroughly prepared with the right team of people surrounding you, you will excel.
What’s the most memorable situation you’ve ever had as a beauty pageant?
Pageants are always fun, especially when it comes to getting to know the other ladies competing. A golden moment for me happened in 2021 when I first competed in the Miss New Jersey USA pageant – I did not place, but I won an award for best interview. When they called up the runners-up and winner, I was genuinely happy for them and full of joy. That moment I will never forget because I experienced what it meant to be truly happy for others, especially when you all were going for the same goal. I believe it is important to celebrate others no matter the situation, and no one teaches us how to be genuinely happy for others. My first pageant gave me that experience.
So, whenever you’re not practicing your steps, raising your shoulders high, and carrying on that beautiful face, what else would you be doing?
I work full-time on Wall Street in a bank, so I always pay attention to what is happening in markets and our business to stay relevant. In my personal time, you can find me mentoring, volunteering, reading books, traveling, or spending time with friends. Some people think I don’t sleep, but I do so you can catch me taking naps that end up becoming sleep.