The Dallas Examiner
“Pretty much you name it, I have been through it. Luckily I don’t look like what I have been through. I come from a broken home, I was bullied…” Kayla Reed, reigning Miss Black Dallas Coed, said as she described her drive to serve, despite sometimes-bitter travails along with her glorious triumphs. “I’m just naturally very empathetic … I don’t like to see people hurting and I really am just passionate about helping people that need it.”
The pageant system she is a part of is specifically for college-educated women.
“All of the contestants, including myself, have at least a bachelor’s degree, and the pageant itself gives out scholarships to be used towards advanced degrees,” Reed, 34, noted, adding that the current Miss Black America Coed is completing a doctorate and estimated her scholarship to be $6,500.
Reed graduated from Southern University in Baton Rouge with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in mass communications. She asserts that she did not enter the pageant for financial reward but rather as a gateway to continue her effort of positive contribution to the community.
“I’m so proud and so humbled to represent the city because Dallas is so well-respected and I know people come here from all over to vacation because we have so much to offer,” she said. “Basically, anything you can think of, we have it here in Dallas.”
The pageant winner conceded that what centers her moral compass is not her title nor the scholarship money, but the opportunity to show young people that there are opportunities out there, even for those who are inexperienced in life’s complexities, unclear about their future, or who are – for the moment – broken.
Reed enjoys addressing young people with what she called her Message of Hope and has been very active in speaking to groups such as The Girl Scouts and the Boys & Girls Club, reaching out to those who need a supportive message.
“I know I only have a small window to catch their attention and provide them with knowledge that I would have liked to have as a kid. For me, it’s about charging my story and the things that I have been through in hopes that the kids that I’m speaking to will be able to avoid some of the challenges I have faced,” Reed admitted in a written statement she provided.
She considers her speaking engagements a way of “paying it forward” toward the future generation. The pageant was simply a platform for bringing encouragement to the youth in the community.
“In the process I can help my sister queens obtain their advanced degrees by exposing people to the Miss Black America Coed pageant system and letting them know that it really is about scholarship and helping someone else out.”
Reed emphasized that her passion for community is not a new development. In fact, her wish to be there for others sprouts from her own childhood desires, struggles and anxieties.
“I think the major hurdle for me was being insecure about myself, in particular my height. I am 5-foot 7, but I’ve been this height since I was in elementary school,” she said. Towering over her classmates and repeated exclamations of “Oh my God – you’re so big,” when meeting people led to Reed viewing her body in a negative light.
“You know, when you’re a kid, all you want to do is blend in and you don’t want anything to make you stand out.”
She was also bullied about her looks and came from a broken home, adding to her insecurities.
Looking back, Reed calls her height a blessing.
“It helped me to excel in sports – basketball and track – even with my pageantry. And that’s something that I have to be positive to myself [about]; positive self-talk. I’m happy that I’ve arrived at the place I am today,” she reflected on her renewed confidence. “And I can tell kids who are struggling with that – because I know there has to be at least one person who is out there struggling with something about their physical appearance that they don’t like – but it gets better, and those things that make you stand out are actually a blessing.”
The key is figuring out how to use them, she affirmed.
Still, some struggles for Reed were more difficult than others. The loss of her mother has been the biggest trial that she has had to endure.
“She passed away when I was a senior in college … and my mother had been battling cancer back and forth basically my whole life,” she said it was a cycle of sickness and wellness. “And the last time she got sick, in my mind, I thought that she would get better.”
Reed referred to her mother her world and her example.
“I’m sorry. I’m tearing up just thinking about it,” she said, reflecting on her life’s greatest hurdle. “I’m thankful for the 21 years that I had with her, because she taught me so much.”
The titleholder recalled a fateful conversation she had with her mother.
“I was getting ready to go back to college, and my mom bought me a new car, and I’m from Kansas so I have to drive back to Baton Rouge to go back to school,” Reed recalled that she essentially begged her mother to join her since she had never driven so far alone before. “And she kind of looked at me and said, ‘Kayla, I’m not going to always be here, and you’re going to need to take care of yourself.’”
Her tears became more intense at the memory.
“And that’s something that always stuck with me because she was right. And her not being here, it pushed me to be more independent, and I had to make decisions on my own, and I feel like I made good decisions,” she said, having tackled college, multiple degrees, and a career that began in South Korea with YBM Publishing. “[It’s] something I probably would have done if my mom was still alive.”
While Reed may be at times overwhelmed by negative emotions, she does not allow them to rule her. She instead tours, brining her Message of Hope to those who need it, beginning the program on the topic of her insecurities and how she eventually understood that being different was something to embrace and to use.
“Right now I am 100 percent focused on my pageant, which includes making appearances, doing service projects – so a couple of weeks ago I helped Habitat For Humanity build a home,” she remarked upon her current activities. “… I have a charm school coming up, and really, getting prepared for my next pageant which will be in September,” at the national competition.
“The next level,” she confirmed.