Brown prepped to represent Tennessee in Miss Volunteer America


Jada Brown is in the final weeks of her reign as Miss Tennessee Volunteer, and her reign has been an example in more ways than one of how the role of a statewide pageant winner is changing in 2024.

Brown was already a history-maker as soon as her name was called as the winner because she’s the first woman of color to win a statewide crown at a pageant in Jackson.

She’s also the first Miss Lane College Volunteer to win the crown as well.

“I knew there was significance to that, but I didn’t realize how big a significance until I went to schools and preliminary pageants and talked to people from all over the state,” Brown said during an interview last week. “I’d be at a school or a pageant, and there were many times when someone would pull me aside or a child would get my attention for a minute and tell me about how hearing my message hit home for them because they were a child or a young adult who felt insecure, and listening to me somehow gave them encouragement or hope.

“I had no idea I might have that kind of impact on those children.”

Brown said she hopes she’s the first in a trend, and she said she spent some time and energy in the past year recruiting more minority women to get involved and compete in local pageants to try to make it to Jackson and compete for Miss Tennessee Volunteer.

“There are usually one or two competing out of 36 contestants,” Brown said. “We have six this year, and I love that Miss Tennessee Volunteer – and the entire organization across the country – is showing that it’s important for women to be represented on that stage no matter your ethnicity, race, religion or anything else that might be different about you. This pageant is for all young women.”

But Brown’s competition in last year’s pageant nearly didn’t happen on two occasions.

The first one was she thought very seriously about not even competing for Miss Lane College Volunteer and not even returning to Jackson for school in January of 2023.

“I was a junior that year and didn’t even get to compete my junior season of volleyball because I’d hurt my shoulder, and I had rotator cuff surgery in November,” Brown said. “As we were preparing to leave for Thanksgiving break, they sent out a campus-wide e-mail inviting any students who wanted to enter the Miss Lane College Volunteer pageant to sign up.”

Brown had been encouraged in the past to compete in it, and she’d thought about it because pageant competition is something she’d done since the age of 7 back home in Plant City, Fla.

“But I thought my pageant days were behind me when I got here, because I was recruited here on a volleyball scholarship and just planned to be a college athlete,” Brown said. “And because I was hurt, I wasn’t sure I could even play volleyball again, and if I couldn’t play volleyball, I wondered what the purpose would be for me to even be here anymore.

“So when we left for the winter break before Thanksgiving, I packed up everything in my dorm thinking I wasn’t coming back.”

But while she was home, she talked with her mother, Tonya Brewer, about Miss Lane College Volunteer and possibly competing in it.

“There was scholarship money available, and she said, ‘Even if you don’t play volleyball, maybe this is why you’re meant to go back if you’re meant to go back,’” Brown said. “So I canceled all my plans to drop my classes and find a school closer to home to transfer too.”

Brown won Miss Lane College Volunteer in January of 2023 and was ready to prepare to compete for Miss Tennessee Volunteer.

But then another health scare happened, this time to Tonya.

“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of last year, and I felt that maybe I needed to get home so I can be closer and help with anything that needs help with back home,” Brown said. “I was preparing to vacate my crown and come home, but mom told me to stop thinking that way and continue with what I started.”

Brown did what her mother told her, and it paid off.

She prepared for the pageant. Developed her platform, which is “Beauty Within Our Hands,” which is about bringing awareness to the deaf community.

“My stepsister is deaf and endured bullying and discrimination growing up because she couldn’t hear, and at 24 years old, she still has things she struggles with because of that,” Brown said. “For instance, it’s hard for her to get a job because of it, and I think we as a society can do better.”

She felt good about her interview with the judges during the week of the pageant and how she did on the stage during the evening gown, fitness and talent portions of the competition. Her talent is a signing dance performance to a song.

“I knew going in that this experience had prepared me for the next chapter of my life after college when, so I had no expectations of winning,” Brown said about her experience on the night of the finals. “When my name was called for top 15, I was excited.”

Her name would be called four more times throughout the rest of the evening – top 12, top 10, top five and one final time after they’d named the four runners-up and she was the last one standing to be named Miss Tennessee Volunteer.

“The one time I was really not sure I’d get my name called was after talent because my talent isn’t your typical pageant talent, so I was surprised every time they called my name that night,” Brown said. “I don’t even really remember the moments leading up to and when I was announced the winner.

“I’ve gone back and watched video of it, and [Jackson Mayor Scott Conger] gave me a bouquet of flowers. I don’t even remember talking to him during that time. The whole moment was so overwhelming, and here I am ugly crying in front of the entire state of Tennessee.”

Brown and 50 other contestants from across the country representing each state and the District of Columbia will compete once again at the Carl Perkins Civic Center for Miss America Volunteer. The next queen will be crowned on June 22.

“I’m going into this pageant just like I went into Miss Tennessee Volunteer,” Brown said. “I’m coming in presenting the best version of myself that I can for the judges, and if I can do that, I will feel satisfied with that.

“And if the judges think that’s worthy of the crown, then I will be proud to wear it. If not, I am so grateful for how this title and organization have prepared me for my next chapter in life.”

Brandon Shields,