From facing off bullies in school to winning the Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen 2018 pageant, the story of Cayla Kumar is an intriguing and inspiring one, not only for young girls her age, but for everyone who seeks to make a difference and be a voice to those without one.
In this exclusive interview, the aspiring Pediatric Oncologist shares benchmarks of her journey.
Guyana Inc. Magazine (GIM): What prompted your participation in the Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen pageant?
Cayla Kumar (CK): Growing up, I used to get bullied. I remember crying every day because the kids would tell me to shave my arms or wax my moustache. My mom wanted to find a way for me to get involved in something that would help build my self-esteem, so she got me involved in volunteering. She figured that if I learned to help others and understand that everyone has a different story, it would help me to ignore the bullies. Then one day, while volunteering, we met another family who spoke to us about pageantry and how much their daughter has gained from competing in pageants. So, my mom decided I would enter the pageant world, which was an unfamiliar territory for us. Pageantry wasn’t and still isn’t about wearing make-up or fancy dresses, but more about public speaking, being a voice for others, getting involved in your community and a community of sisterhood to help you along the way. Through pageantry, I had a way to share my love for helping others. Since I started competing in pageants, it was my dream to compete on the Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen stage. My first year competing, I placed 1st Runner-Up and was determined to try again. Winning Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen 2018 has given me the opportunity to promote my platform and fight for something I believe in.
GIM: Please provide details of your growth leading up to the win and after.
CK: In the months leading up to the competition, I was extremely busy with preparation. I worked with an amazing interview team and I was in the dance studio at least 3 times a week working on perfecting my talent, since talent was 35% of my overall score. I was also in the gym working on getting one perfect push-up for the fitness part of the competition. I’ve had numerous opportunities to speak about my platform, “The Gold Ribbon Project: Curing Pediatric Cancer” which has allowed me to work on my public speaking skills. After placing 1st Runner-Up last April, I remember setting a goal for this year’s competition. I worked extremely hard on balancing school, volunteering, dancing and pageant prep. I’ve learned that I need to set goals in life and work hard to achieve those goals. I’m extremely excited to have won Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen, as I am the first Indo-Caribbean to win this prestigious title. Along with winning Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen 2018, I have earned scholarship money for college and have the opportunity to attend 6 colleges debt free.
GIM: What inspires you to continue with the positive activities that you would have participated in to win?
CK: Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. As a child, I’ve learned that being kind and giving back to my community doesn’t cost anything. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with many organizations over the last several years. Moreover, I was able to travel to Washington D.C. for the CureFest for Childhood Cancer and joined a rally of more than 1,000 people working for increased funding for pediatric cancer research. In addition, this past April, I was able to spend time in my state capitol speaking with my state representatives about the need for increased funding. Every two minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer and it is the number one cause of death by disease among children. Attending CureFest will have an everlasting effect on me and has encouraged me to keep advocating for the kids, that’s why I hope to become a Pediatric Oncologist.
GIM: Do you have any special plans for Diwali this year?
CK: My Diwali celebrations are very different because I’m usually in school. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to enjoy Diwali in India or Guyana. One thing I do look forward for during Diwali is when our neighbors share their home-made sweets with us. Our home is always lit with diyas and the smell of the ghee burning travels throughout the house. As my mom would say, “That’s a blessing from Mother Lakshmi”.