5 Min ReadSelf 11 May 2020
Back in January of this year — though it feels like a world away now — I won Miss New York USA. At that point, I was officially in the running to compete for the title of Miss USA and closer than ever to making one of my biggest dreams come true. Prior to being crowned Miss New York USA, I always followed the delegates from previous years as they shared all the amazing things they got to do in their community (both glamorous and philanthropic) as well as their intense preparations for Miss USA.
The weeks following January 19 to March 12, I had an incredibly busy schedule. I would wake up at 6 AM and not get back to bed until 10 or 11 PM every single night, 7 days a week. From working half the day to meeting with sponsors, and then attending events and other appearances, traveling to boot camp, and running around NYC in heels, I was on a kick. I felt like I was Olivia Pope.
The weeks following January 19 to March 12, I had an incredibly busy schedule. I would wake up at 6 AM and not get back to bed until 10 or 11 PM every single night, 7 days a week.
I had booked appearances weeks and months in advance including events with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, hosting women in leadership panel events, my More Than Enough school tour, and a trip to Paris to volunteer with a charitable organization and judge the Miss Cap-Vert France competition.
On March 12, I was getting ready to head to an appearance at the Project Runway season finale party. I even had my hair and makeup already done since I was scheduled to do a photoshoot before the event. However, 30 minutes before I was scheduled to leave my apartment, I got an email stating that due to COVID and the new regulations New York City was implementing the event was canceled. On that first day, I could never have imagined how the next few months would play out. With all my appearances canceled and me being stuck inside my apartment, like everyone else in the city, I had no choice but to adapt.
First off, let me just say I'm a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens in our lives, whether it is what we perceive as being good or being bad. For me personally, when things don't go as planned, it actually fuels a fire in me to be creative and make the best of the opportunity and that's exactly what I did. I had to be resourceful and use my can-do attitude.
With all my appearances canceled and me being stuck inside my apartment, like everyone else in the city, I had no choice but to adapt.
For one thing, I never would have thought that my official headshot and photos for Miss USA would be taken from my apartment; my official photoshoots were scheduled for mid-March, of course, were canceled. So, I had to get resourceful. I reached out to a photographer friend in my building since his camera was higher quality than my iPhone, which I had previously been using to do mini photoshoots. I went to Target and bought a fan; I already had a gray backdrop. Finally, with all the pieces in place, I did my own hair and makeup and sat on the floor of my living room facing natural lighting to get the absolute best at-home photos for Miss USA, all with a fan blowing my hair.
I had no other option, and I was determined to get the absolute best photos I could. So, I made it happen. Other at-home preparations have included interviews, wardrobe, and makeup lessons, all of which have been done via Facetime or Zoom with my incredible team. We're making it work, as we all are these days.
Outside of my own personal preparations, I knew my community was hurting, and I wanted to do something about it. We have lost so many people and professionals on the frontlines who are sacrificing their lives every day to help heal our country. Naturally, I had to turn my attention to this meaningful issue in any and every way I could.
For starters, I teamed up with the company Super Coffee to make donations to hospitals around the New York City area. I also began training with New York Cares as part of their phone bank volunteer program. Because Spanish is one of the 4 languages, I have been able to make calls to isolated individuals and NYC public school students in transitional housing who have difficulty speaking English. As for the More Than Enough school tour I had planned, I made it virtual and opened it up to people across the United States doing 30-minute mentorship calls via Zoom.
For one thing, I never would have thought that my official headshot and photos for Miss USA would be taken from my apartment; my official photoshoots were scheduled for mid-March, of course, were canceled. So, I had to get resourceful.
Living in the epicenter of COVID-19 and being Miss New York USA has challenged me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. But I am doing my best to rise to that challenge.
Although this is obviously not what I pictured my preparation for Miss USA to be like, I am immensely grateful for what I have learned about myself and my community. God willing, if I do win Miss USA, I know that the effects of COVID-19 or even a possible second wave will affect my reign. But I am fully prepared to do whatever it takes to tackle these issues and serve my community no matter the circumstances.
For anyone reading this, I want you to know that none of this was easy. There were mornings I would wake up and feel defeated, days when I missed my family and friends so much that I felt too tired to be productive, days when I stressed about whether or not I was doing enough. I think we can all relate to these feelings in one way or another, but I wouldn't — I couldn't — let these hold me back.
But I am fully prepared to do whatever it takes to tackle these issues and serve my community no matter the circumstances.
Do you know what the silent driving factor that's been keeping me moving forward is? My ambition.
My ambition for life, for what I want for myself, and for what I want for my community. I know that the platform I have doesn't come with a manual, but it does come with a purpose. We are all capable of tapping into ourselves during this time to make the best of a challenging situation.
Right now... I am alive, I am healthy, and I couldn't be more fired up to compete for Miss USA.
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5 Min Read
You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.