The reigning Ms. Illinois, LaTanya Morris, isn’t a stranger to poverty, drugs and gang violence. But she says she was given a second chance for a better life and more opportunities when her grandparents adopted her at 13.
“I made a decision to not become a product of my environment. Once you know what you don’t want, the things that you do want become clearer, more real and more tangible. There are not many things greater than the power of the human will. That, along with my faith in God and the support of my siblings, was a core part of it.”
The Markham mom competes for the Ms. America crown Aug. 22-24 in Long Beach, Calif.
How does it feel to be a role model to young women of color?
There are no words to express the feeling. I’m just happy to be able to give back, to inspire and encourage and to make an impact on someone’s life. I have been there before so I know what it’s like to be told that your skin is not light enough, your curves are not small enough and your hair is not long enough. It gets to a point where you start to believe that you are just not good enough. But I have found that I’m worth it, and the journey was worth it. It’s just a great feeling to know that because of my story, a discouraged, aspiring black girl won’t give up hope.
How did you stop the negative moments in your life from determining your future?
You can have excuses or you can have results, but you can’t have both. You cannot allow your reason why to become your reason why not. I don’t view negative moments as a setback, I see them as lessons and a good way to redirect yourself and to grow. You absolutely need failure to appreciate success. I just made sure to fail forward.
What’s your philosophy on life?
I don’t just have one philosophy, but the one thing that keeps me motivated when I get stuck is ‘Do what you can do with what you have where you are, and just take the next best step.’ You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.
What is your best advice for other single parents?
Don’t be so hard on yourself, you are doing better than you think you are, so just keep doing the best that you can. Even more importantly, it’s OK to take some ‘me time.’ Don’t deprive yourself of rest, fun and food, and don’t feel guilty about it. You will do yourself and your family a favor if you take a moment to ‘woosah.’
Ms. Illinois 2019; Ms. America 2019 contestant
Day job: Physician assistant at Emergency Medical Physicians Group (working with Ingalls Memorial Hospital and University of Chicago)
Son: John Michael, 10
Parenting must haves: Snacks, baby wipes, Kleenex, bandages, Tylenol, thermometer, coloring books/crayons, a crock pot and a good bottle of wine!
Favorite places to spend a summer weekend in Chicago: Maggie Daley Park, Millennium Park, Odyssey Fun World, the movies and Shedd Aquarium
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This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.