Writer Joseph J. Airdo
As you might expect, former Miss Arizona USA Cassidy Jo Jacks loves to get dressed up, do her makeup and embrace her feminine side. However, what you might not expect is that the pageant winner is actually a huge tomboy at heart, having played soccer in her youth and feeling most at home while out in the woods hunting deer.
“I would not say that I am what most people envision when they see the crown,” Jacks says. “Just because I have to present myself a certain way does not mean that I do not get down and dirty. It is good to show versatility.”
Although the crown implies a particular prestige, Jacks does not consider herself to be anything other than the girl next door.
“I never try to be anyone other than my true, authentic self in all situations,” she explains. “I basically wear a baseball hat all of the time. But I get to wear this shiny hat, too. And this hat has a lot of power. I can walk into a room of children with no families and they think that I am the coolest thing since sliced bread. It is a very humbling experience. You can be very impactful with this title.”
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Jacks’ pageant journey began in middle school.
“I am really competitive so anytime someone says that there is a competition, I will try it,” Jacks says. “I bought my dress from the mall and my mom did my makeup. And I am pretty sure that I told the judges that my mom had written my bio. They asked something and I was like, ‘Honestly, I did not even know that was in there.’”
Jacks’ honesty and authenticity paid off as she won the small, local pageant, giving her the first taste of winning and further fueling her competitive nature. Shortly after that, Jacks moved to Alabama and, upon entering high school, she raised the stakes by competing for Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen — partly for the competition and partly for the scholarship money.
“Even when I did not win, I received so much scholarship money that I could use to pay for college,” explains Jacks, who went on to compete for the title of Miss Alabama while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in public relations and communications studies from the University of Alabama.
“When I turned 18, I paid for everything on my own. I worked 40 hours per week, I was a full-time student and I was also competing for the title of Miss Alabama. I mean, there were semesters in college that I did not even have to pay any tuition.”
Jacks moved to Arizona in 2017. After having aged out of the Miss America pageant system, she decided to try her hand at Miss USA. And, in 2021, she was crowned Miss Arizona USA, finally winning her first official state title.
“I just absolutely love competing,” she says. “I thrive in that environment because, whether I walk away with a crown or not, I am a really good version of myself. I am healthy, I am happy and I am goal-oriented.”
Jacks adds that although each pageant system has a few of its own unique qualities, both are big on women’s empowerment and helping contestants find their voice so that they can help others.
Never Give Up
While competing within the Miss America system, Jacks founded Feed a Soul, Fill a Heart — a nonprofit organization committed to feeding the hungry. Upon moving to Arizona, she dedicated herself to understanding the issues that were especially prevalent in our state. That is when she discovered Arizona’s alarmingly high domestic violence statistics.
According to a recent report published by the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, there were 85 domestic violence fatalities in our state last year. Even one death is too many but that number of fatalities, which is among the highest in the nation, is an indicator of a much larger problem in our state. Nearly 22,000 Arizonans called hotlines to find help and safety between June 2020 and July 2021 alone. One can only imagine how many more suffer in silence.
“I feel so fortunate that I did not come from a home in which I had to deal with any type of domestic violence,” Jacks says. “But there are so many people who do and I just felt that, as a woman, I should know and do more about that.”
Jacks began working with Winged Hope, a foundation that focuses on preventing and healing family violence. One of her efforts involved organizing a women’s self-defense seminar.
“All of the proceeds went to Winged Hope and, at the same time, we were learning some really practical self-defense tactics,” she explains.
When Jacks discovered another alarming statistic in that there are more than 13,000 children in foster care in Arizona, she began working with Sunshine Acres — an organization that provides a loving, wholesome home for children who are separated from their parents while helping them establish long-term relationships with stable parental figures and preparing them for success in adult life.
“The number of kids that need to be adopted in our state is just insane,” says Jacks, who has grown quite close to many of the girls at Sunshine Acres over the past year. “I attend Sunday night dinners with them. It is so cool to see how excited they are to tell me about their day or show me what they did in school. It is very touching.”
Jacks is especially affected by the fact that there are so many children who do not have anyone to tell them that they can do whatever they set their minds to. She, therefore, offers the girls at Sunshine Acres hope and encouragement by presenting to them her most authentic self. After all, the shiny hat implies a certain sort of affluence. But while Jacks was fortunate to have had a loving and supportive family, at heart, she is no different than any of them. Moreover, she, like everybody, has had her challenges.
“I mean, you should have seen me when I was 18 years old,” Jacks says. “I had no idea how I was going to pay my rent or how was I going to pass any of my classes while also working 40 hours per week as a server and trying to win Miss Alabama so that I could pay for college. But I just kept going and I never gave up. So it is nice to be able to share that. As cliche as it sounds, you really should never give up. Things can and will happen if you work hard for them.”
Jacks came close to not entering the Miss Arizona USA competition last year but is glad that she took her own advice — at the encouragement of her friends and family.
“I came so close to winning so many state titles,” she says. “I gave it one last try the last time that I could and it happened. And I do not think that I was prepared for the job until now. I do not think that I would have been able to handle the situation, the stress and the time management between this title and my career until now. So it all worked out great.”
Jacks says that her experience with pageants over the years has strengthened her perseverance in all areas of her life.
She also acknowledges that although her pageant journey has come to an end, there are still plenty of opportunities for her to exercise her competitive nature — namely in her career as a senior marketing executive in the healthcare industry.
Ultimately, though, Jacks’ motivations are and always will be founded on helping others.
“Your life is so much better and has so much more meaning when it is not just about yourself,” says Jacks, noting that we do not need a title or a crown to make a difference in others’ lives. “But it does give you a platform. It has provided me with many opportunities that I would have not had otherwise.
“I have a huge opportunity to spread awareness about things that are important to me or about which I have learned and to actually help people. I have a voice that reaches way more people than I normally would without this shiny hat.”
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