Cordelia Crenshaw is Miss District of Columbia USA. She is a social worker by profession and community advocate by destiny. She is founder, president, and CEO of Acts of Random Kindness (ARK), a nonprofit organization serving at-risk populations in the district. AND She is poised, charismatic, intelligent, personable, driven, and a woman on a mission.
A mission, that prioritizes lifting voices that are often ignored. A mission, gifted to her through personal hardship and triumph.
Unlike her pageant persona, Cordelia the girl, did not dress up in beautiful gowns or wear flawless makeup in front of admiring onlookers.
“I just learned how to do makeup like three years ago,” she kidded. “I was so used to operating in
survival mode that I didn’t have time to explore my more girly side. But it was something I always wanted to do and something I really enjoy.”
Cordelia spent her adolescence in the foster care system. Before that, she bounced from home to home, a story many youth in the district can relate to who have parents who struggle with addiction and incarceration. But Cordelia, despite her challenging home life, took advantage of every resource available to her to advance her aspirations for success. So in 2014, when she founded ARK, it was natural that the motto be:
“You are only one resource away from achieving your dreams!”
A motto, that builds upon the organization’s mission to bridge the gaps in community by providing programs and resources to children and families.
For Cordelia, pageants are a resource. She won her first pageant at 16 years old. She is also one of the six percent of youth, nationally, to age out of the foster care system at 21 years old and to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Before claiming the title of Miss DC this December, it took Cordelia four tries to finally win.
“It was discouraging to say the least,” she says, “but I never gave up.” Her plan has always been to use her platform to go back into the system and impact the lives of those that need it the most. A plan, she strategically prepared for, through her education in social work.
“I want to serve the children who our society deems the worst of the worst,” Cordelia says. “I’ve been where they are. I understand what they are going through. When I walk into a room of professionals in my field, I know that my lived experiences give me a leg up in finding feasible solutions.”
Solutions that are greatly needed in the nation’s capital where Cordelia says there is a foster placement crisis.
“Gentrification has put a strain on foster care resources. Rapid development, specifically as it relates to housing options, has had the unintended consequence of negatively affecting our most vulnerable populations; like foster children.”
A part of bridging the gap between community and resource accessibility is the creation of strong communities. Acts of Random Kindness’ philosophy emphasizes prevention over intervention. Prevention, sustained through community engagement and partnership. This year, ARK received a grant to expand their programming in Wards 7 and 8.
ARK programs currently include an 8-week co-parenting course for low-income parents that are no longer engaged in an intimate relationship with the mother or father of their child but are eager to learn and utilize innovative Co-Parenting tools and resources. As well as a program to support teen males of color, in DC, who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, foster care, and other at-risk identifiers, called iCAN. iCAN uses a workshop design combined with a mentorship component. Both programs are designed to break negative cycles of poverty, addiction, and negligent parenting. It is Cordelia’s goal to extend the ARK curriculum throughout the District of Columbia and the United States.
So, how will Miss District of Columbia USA do it? Cordelia Cranshaw will be Cordelia Cranshaw.
“I win, when I remain true to myself. I implore everyone else to do the same.” For more information about Acts of Random Kindness (ARK) and how you can get involved visit www.ark-dc.org.