Ocoee resident selected for Miss Florida USA 2023 | West Orange Times & Observer
Erika Feazell would never have imagined that she would participate in a national competition. And even more shocking: that she would be delighted to do so.
Prior to her sophomore year in high school, she thought wearing a dress was too girly and prided herself on being a tomboy.
Now the 25-year-old Ocoee resident is defying all pageant norms and expectations with her entry into the Miss Florida USA 2023 competition — with the goal of moving on to Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions — to inspire change that no longer just affects her immediate friends and family, but her community around the world.
She said her faith in God and the strength of women around the world guided her through the process.
“You’re never too young, you’re never too old, you don’t have to look a certain way, you don’t have to be a college graduate, you don’t have to need to have a master’s degree or even a 9-to-5 job,” she said. “I want to show women that you can always go after your dreams.
Feazell knew Miss USA – her sister is a fanatic – but she wasn’t as big of a fan. She believed that much of the organization was based on beauty when Donald Trump ran it.
“Women are more than what they look like,” she said. “As the organization evolved into this scholarship contest – more about community and less about beauty and more about intelligence – that’s really what drew me to it.”
In 2019, all three tiers of contest winners were black women — an achievement that resonated with Feazell.
“It was absolutely amazing to me,” she said.
Feazell said her platform for Miss USA was not about equality but rather health equity, which she defines as meeting people where they are and giving them the tools they need to live an above average life.
“I found my purpose in creating a world where fairness definitely exists,” she said. “Most people think that equality is more important than fairness, but if we give everyone the same tools, how do we close the gender gaps, the income gaps and even the racial gaps that still give some groups two steps ahead?
After applying, Feazell received her approval email in June. She is now in the process of preparation and research, during which she also mentally prepares herself for the responsibilities that come with the potential role.
The scores from the preliminary phase of the competition are totaled and the competitors with the highest composite scores advance to the semi-finals. The semi-finalists compete on stage in sportswear/swimsuits and evening dresses before a top five is selected using the same methodology.
An onstage question is then posed to each finalist by the host, and the judges make their selections for the winners.
Feazell currently works as a Community Resource Specialist at East Central Florida Health Council.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone in the community, and the young woman was no exception; she was fired from her sales job.
At the time, Feazell said her family was struggling with various health issues and she wanted to find a way to support them while supporting herself financially.
“I realized it didn’t matter if you had traditional qualifications like a degree; an economic crisis can throw you into a whole other world that no one is prepared for,” Feazell said. “I wanted to find something that would stick, and a lot of that was about health.”
That’s when she saw an ad for the health board when it had partnered with Healthy Western Orange to build a new resource center, now known as HUBB.
“When I started (my current role) it was really about understanding the community to meet their needs, and I fell in love with Healthy West Orange,” she said. “Healthy West Orange not only cares about the employees, but also the people they talk to, and that touches me.”
Through the eyes of a working woman, Feazell began to see the need that existed in her community.
“I was lucky to be raised in a home where I never had to wonder where my next meal was coming from and instead saw myself as above everyone else,” Feazell said. . “It really broke my heart that someone had a different and less fortunate experience than me.”
Feazell also volunteers for HWO, and she said her favorite part of the organization is the contagious energy.
Lesa Boettcher, chief operating officer of the Foundation for a Healthier West Orange, said the organization was thrilled to see Feazell compete.
“Through HUBB by Healthy West Orange, she plays a vital role in connecting West Orange residents to much-needed health and wellness resources,” Boettcher said. “Erika is a caring leader with a passion for uplifting our community, and she is very deserving as she begins this journey.”
As part of his volunteer work, Feazell also works with Eight Waves as a member of its board of directors.
She nurtures relationships in the community that help form life leaders through reading intervention, celebration, and the provision of resources that help contribute to the basic needs of children and families, as well as provide books to these people.
“Erika is a kind, considerate and thoughtful person,” said Kelly Carr, Director of Operations and Programs for Eight Waves. “She goes above and beyond to help connect our organization with others in the community and is always willing to lend a hand. She recently helped connect Eight Waves with US Hunger and personally came and helped helped distribute food boxes for our community outreach event.
Additionally, Feazell volunteers with the Black Boardroom Leadership Institute and has previously led at Grace Bible Church as a servant leader.
Feazell said her childhood played a huge role in creating the person she is today.
The Ocoee resident was born in Ocala and said her blended family of eight was the best introduction to the world she could have had.
“(Because) I had the luxury of being around different personalities since I entered, I was able to learn compassion, generosity and community very early on,” she said.
Feazell was often compared to her older sister, Jacqueline Johnson, because they looked alike. Although there was always a part of her that felt like she was following in her footsteps, she said her sister was one of the nicest people she knew and wanted her very much. look like.
Feazell’s parents are almost worlds apart, believing in two different methods of success – one through academic achievement and the other through athletics.
She attended Orlando schools throughout her childhood and stood out at both, winning top prizes and setting records in athletics at her local high school, Maynard Evans.
“My dad, the sports fanatic, put me on a team with my younger brother where I played baseball – yes, baseball not softball – which pushed me to be as competitive as I was daring” , Feazell said. “That competitive nature stopped after rushing into adulthood and realizing that being an adult was less about freedom and more about responsibility.”
Feazell attended the University of Florida his freshman year. However, after a year, she returned home and enrolled in Seminole State College, where she studied psychology and dreamed of working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a criminal investigator.
But while pursuing this dream, another revealed itself.
“I realized that I didn’t want a normal life for myself,” Feazell explained. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to do anything, my passion wasn’t there, so I ended up finding my passion in the work that I do now, which is community driven. The community is everything to me.
Feazell said her goal is to win the competition so she can be a strong representation for women of all ages and eventually open a nonprofit organization specifically for women to better understand the resources they need to be the best possible.
The state pageant will take place in May 2023, with Miss USA five to six months after and Miss Universe two months later.
ABOUT MISS FLORIDA USA
The Miss Florida USA pageant is the pageant that selects the state’s representative in the Miss USA pageant. Miss USA is an American beauty pageant that has been held every year since 1952 to select the United States entrant for the Miss Universe pageant. Miss Universe is an annual international beauty pageant held by the United States-based Miss Universe organization.