Derby Chukwudi, this year’s Miss New Jersey USA, is a first generation Nigerian-American. And it was only her second time competing for the title. Next up is the Miss USA Pageant, which will be airing live on CW on Friday, September 29.
The brilliant beauty queen also works in finance at JPMorgan Private Bank as a member of the Global Investment Strategy Team. Along those lines, Chukwudi is promoting financial education during her year of service, telling ESSENCE “I think one of the realest things I saw growing up was the impact of money. And one thing I like to say is that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it’s going to determine how happy you are going to be because there are real bills out there looking at you to be paid.”
“I’m all about that financial awareness. I think when people hear financial education, they think saving, which is a good tool,” but, Chukwudi also wants people to focus on their mindset towards money. “I’m extremely passionate about the behavioral science aspects of financial education.” Bottom line: “You’re never too young to learn about money,” she explained.
Like in the finance industry, there’s only a handful of Black faces in the pageant world. Chukwudi understands the mantle she’s taken up with her crown, and the importance of representation in this space. “Sometimes all I have to do is show up,” she said, adding “I don’t even need to say anything, and I can see the impact in the eyes of people who are observing me. I’m a source of hope, and that’s why we need more representation in this space. We need to be given a chance.”
“The same thing goes in finance,” Chukwudi remarked. “With finance, people have a misconception that finance is not for me or that people like me shouldn’t be here. I want people who look like us in every single room because that’s when we’re going to create the change we want to see. The work is not done.”
What inspired Chukwudi to enter the pageant two years ago? She said that she wanted to be intentional about making sure she did something outside of finance every year in order to challenge her comfort zone. But after becoming immersed in all things pageant, she reflected on how “it seems like two different worlds, but it almost feels the same because what got me interested was less about the glamour and the cameras. It was more about the process. You have to show up. You have to be determined. You have to be organized.”
Chukwudi shared how these are many of the core skills that she also uses at work and she felt compelled “to shine a light on this aspect.” “Everybody has their opinions about pageantry. But, it’s almost like I don’t know what I can compare it to aside from intense training. it feels like I’m preparing for the Olympics. There are different areas to focus on, and you still need to be graceful, poised, and ready for anything that comes your way. That is a skill, and people need to know that. So that’s part of why I’m in this field to show people that.”
Chukwudi revealed that “my journey has taught me the importance of really leaning into who you are. We can’t keep trying to fit in, we need to stand out. We’re all unique for a reason and I feel like sometimes you have opportunities like this and everybody’s trying to be the same. Everybody’s trying to please other people, but I’ve learned to really trust my decisions.”
She continued, “I’ve learned to remember that I’m in the room for a particular reason, and this is what has helped me shine. I know that if I want to keep shining, retaining that authenticity will be very key in this journey, and beyond, even at work or in the communities that I serve.”