Photo courtesy of Sophie Phillips
March 01, 2022
For Sophie Phillips, it’s all about connections. Connection with communities. Connecting young women with opportunity. Connect service to politics. Connecting with one’s own family heritage.
Since June, she has been able to do all of this thanks to her reign as Miss Delaware 2021 and her studies at the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware, where she earned her master’s degree in energy. and environmental policy.
With a pageant platform focused on ensuring everyone has access to national and state parks, gardens and other environmental assets, she hosted one of her first official events as Miss Delaware. by launching a community garden in the Southbridge neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware.
“A local owned the land and I was able to help secure funds to till the soil, buy mulch, fruit trees, vegetables and even start a pollinator garden, so families in the neighborhood could use it for food and for education,” Phillips said. . “With Food from the Garden, I’ve helped create free cooking classes for community members so they can learn not only how to grow and harvest their own food, but also how to cook with it. We donated the leftover food from an open market this fall. We’ll be going back in May and replanting with the neighborhood kids.
As Phillips continued to work in low-income communities along the Route 9 and Route 13 corridors in Delaware, she quickly realized how important it was to speak with longtime residents to better understand their needs. She made sure to have long conversations with older women in the neighborhoods to learn more about their vision for their communities. Phillips learned that the younger generation needed help finding direction.
“From conversations in the community, I learned that young women were motivated to make change and make a difference in their own lives and in their communities, but didn’t know where to start,” Phillips said. “I started workshops for young women aged 13 to 26 to build their confidence, help them find their talent, learn how to share their stories, work on resume writing, build their networks and find a cause. in their community that is close to their hearts. »
Phillips chose to focus on the specific age range to address community members’ concerns, but also to teach young women the skills they would need if they ever chose to compete for Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Delaware. As a woman of Black, Indian and Caribbean descent, she strives to create more diversity in the world of pageants, opening scholarships and opportunities to underrepresented young women.
“From board members to attendees, the Miss Delaware and Miss America organizations aren’t hugely diverse in terms of background or ethnicity, and I want them to bring new stories and perspectives to the organization,” Phillips said. “I want to change the focus so that women from low-income communities, especially women of color, are represented and to ensure that scholarships and opportunities go to those who need them most.”
The desire to increase diversity, equity and inclusion goes beyond the world of pageants for Phillips. His master’s thesis at the Biden School at UD focuses on environmental justice and increasing diversity in state and national parks. She works specifically at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, and Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park in Baltimore. Phillips’ research asks questions like “Who uses parks and what are they for?” as well as ‘Who does not use them and why? How are they monitored and how does a person’s past experience in a park prevent them from returning? »
His family heritage is a major driver of Phillips’ education and community service.
“Being multicultural is one of the main reasons I got involved in environmental justice. Family members who are darker than me and who live in cities have less access to tree cover and park systems. than me growing up in New York where we appreciate the environment differently,” Phillips said. “I wondered if there was a historical reason for that and the answer is yes. Environmental justice issues are so relevant right now and resonate with me. I grew up in a predominantly white area, which was difficult for me as a woman of color. Working with more diverse communities today helps me feel closer to my family and who I am.
Phillips hopes his studies, historical reenactment work and passion for diversity, equity and inclusion will be his life’s legacy.
“When I graduate and move on, I want to be a ranger. It’s really important to me to leave a legacy of helping diversity, equity and inclusion in parks and STEM careers, where there aren’t many women and even fewer people of color,” Phillips said. “I want to help change the stats and help kids go to parks, community gardens, etc., so that they know about careers that offer benefits and opportunities. I hope to end my year as Miss Delaware with more diversity throughout the organization. The stories of diverse and low-income women are stories we all need to hear, and we need to let all the women compete, or we’ll never know if we have the best women competing.