Turning Adversity into Advocacy with Miss Ohio Candidate, Emily Cram

Turning Adversity into Advocacy with Miss Ohio Candidate, Emily Cram.png

What if the struggles that bury you today are planting you for a greater purpose tomorrow?

In this episode of The EmPOWERed Half Hour, Becca is joined by Emily Cram, an 18-year-old Miss Ohio candidate in the Miss America Organization. Recently crowned the Portsmouth River Days Queen, Emily is a shining example of resilience and dedication to community service. They explore themes of personal growth, community impact, and overcoming adversity.

From Pageants to Purpose:

Emily shares her journey into pageantry, emphasizing that it’s about much more than appearances. Through interviews, public speaking, and community action, Emily explains how pageants have become a leadership and personal growth platform.

The Lotus Project: Healing Through Mentorship:

One of Emily’s most passionate endeavors is The Lotus Project, a mentorship program aimed at helping children rebuild from trauma and loss. Emily discusses the significance of pairing young girls with strong female role models to provide support and healing. This offers a safe space for children to grow and thrive despite hardships.

Turning Grief into Growth:

Emily opens up about her struggles with her parent’s divorce and how it affected her perception of love and security. She shares how her experiences with anxiety and depression led her to create The Lotus Project and reframe her pain as a planting process rather than being buried.

The Power of Connection in Overcoming Trauma:

Both Becca and Emily discuss how relationships can influence recovery and the critical role of trusted adults in a child’s life. Becca also shares her personal experiences with loss and the impact of disconnection on her family, emphasizing that connection is the most crucial aspect of overcoming life’s challenges.

A Journey of Personal Healing:

Emily talks about her battle with an autoimmune disorder and how her focus on mental and emotional healing has led to physical improvements. Her story underscores the interconnectedness of our mental and physical health and the importance of holistic healing.


Key Moments You Won't Want to Miss:

  • Emily's Journey into Pageantry: Explore Emily's compelling journey into the world of pageantry, where she discovered a platform for personal growth and leadership beyond appearances.
  • The Genesis of The Lotus Project: Delve into the heartfelt story behind The Lotus Project, as Emily shares her inspiration and vision for creating a mentorship program aimed at helping children overcome trauma and loss.
  • Transforming Pain into Purpose: Witness Emily's candid reflection on her struggles with her parents' divorce and how she turned her experiences with anxiety and depression into a catalyst for positive change through The Lotus Project.
  • The Healing Power of Connection: Learn from Emily and Becca about the profound impact of connection in overcoming trauma, as they discuss the importance of trusted relationships and community support in navigating life's challenges.
  • Advocacy for Representation and Empowerment: Gain insights into Emily's advocacy efforts beyond The Lotus Project, as she shares her passion for empowering young girls and championing representation in the face of adversity.
  • Holistic Healing and Resilience: Hear Emily's inspiring journey of personal healing, where she discusses the interconnectedness of mental, emotional, and physical well-being, and emphasizes the importance of resilience in overcoming life's obstacles.

Empowering Thoughts to Take With You:

  • “When I think about my crown and sash, I think that was my step into leadership and my first step of courage into my passions.” — Emily Cram
  • “You are not alone and you've never been alone.” — Emily Cram
  • “You are more than where you came from.” — Emily Cram
  • “Attention is the most rare and pure form of generosity.” — Emily Cram
  • “Connectivity and relationships heal more than anything else.” — Emily Cram
  • “You've not been buried, you've been planted.” — Emily Cram
  • “Healing comes from emotional work.” — Becca Powers
  • “How they get back to being who they are is through positive relationships, positive reinforcement, and presence.” — Becca Powers

About Emily:

Emily Cram is an eighteen-year-old contestant for Miss Ohio in the Miss America Organization. Recently crowned as the Portsmouth River Days Queen, Emily is eager to represent her community on a larger stage. She is deeply committed to her community service initiative, The Lotus Project, which is a mentorship program aimed at helping children rebuild from trauma and loss. Emily plans to extend her passion for child advocacy into her future career by pursuing studies and work in child advocacy law.

Connect with Emily Cram:

Follow Becca Powers:

We Want to Hear From You!

Share your stories of overcoming trauma, navigating divorce, and finding resilience. Connect with us on social media or leave a review on your preferred podcast platform. Your experiences inspire our future episodes and remind us that we’re all in this together!

Welcome to another episode of the empowered half-hour. I'm so excited to bring you today's guest. If you are watching this, you're going to see her Tiara, her crown, it's absolutely beautiful. I am interviewing Miss Emily Cram, who is Miss River Days. So we got a double miss, Miss Emily Cram and Miss River Days. Welcome to the show, Emily. Hi, thank you for having me. 

I always like to share with the listeners how we got introduced, and a lot of the listeners know Lynae, she's my business partner and she is Miss-behind-the-scenes. I've connected to you through Lynae, and she said to me, I really think that you should interview Emily because she has quite an impressive background for just graduating high school, you have your accomplishments and pageants, but you also do a lot of other things, and I was reading your bio and I can't wait to get into conversation.

So let's get started. You just won Miss River Days and you are transitioning from high school to college. You have a lot of accomplishments under your belt. I also read that you have overcome some autoimmune stuff with connected tissue, me too, by the way. I'm like, we'll talk about that, but I really want to get into your backstory. What got you into pageants? and I know that maybe we can just give a small intro to pageants.

So for anybody who's not in the world, people see pageants and they're like, she's so beautiful or they see the physical aspect of it, but there's a lot of philanthropy. There are a lot of wonderful things that go on behind the scenes or that are part of the pageant process. So maybe for any listeners that aren't familiar with the pageant, I would say industry, what could you share about them that's more than what they might see on TV?

Pageants Beyond Beauty and Philanthropy

Most pageants have a lot of different things that they judge. While I do think your impressions, like your appearance, just like in everyday life give a certain impression, it's not judged by the judges. Interviews are super important like this, and also your on-stage presence, and your philanthropy, like you mentioned.

It's also about your community action, your voice in the community, and your passions. It's also about scholarship, it's about so many different things other than just the way that you look. And I do think that there's a stigma with pageant girls, but when I think about my crown and my sash, I think that was my step into leadership. That was my first step toward courage in my passions and I can give anybody that opportunity and it can also allow anybody to achieve a second education. So most pageants actually offer scholarship money for higher education.

That's awesome, and I love that you said that wearing your crown and wearing your sash actually makes you feel like you've accomplished your leadership and stuff like that, because there's so much that goes into the background of, and to win too, you have to develop yourself in multiple areas, which there's a lot of personal growth.

It's also about public speaking, which I think was a big aspect of growth for me. Before I had gone into the pageant industry, when I was 17, I had never spoken in front of a crowd. Then I became Miss Minford, who was my school representative, and I spoke in front of a crowd every single day and inevitably got better at that. And I think that's what pageants are for, personal growth.

Let's transition a little bit into your backstory. What got you into the pageant space in the first place?

A Platform for Change

I knew I had a message to share and I knew that I needed a platform to share my story.

When I was younger, my parents got a divorce and it broke my heart. It broke my perception of what love meant to me and I grieved. And I think people today in society have a hard time dealing with divorce. We can have empathy for someone who lost someone to death, and we can have empathy for children going through foster care, but divorce is a little bit hard of a subject to talk about because it's different across the board.

Sometimes some families welcome their divorce, but not mine. We all grieved our parents' divorce, and in battling anxiety and depression as an outcome of that divorce, I knew that I needed to share my story. The divorce also meant a lack, a loss more not a lack, a loss of security and safety, and also a lack of support in dealing with my connective tissue disorder, I know you connect to me, I'm more talking about my story with grief, and I knew that I needed a place to share that. I knew I needed a place where I could reach people like me, and that's actually why I created my community service initiative, The Lotus Project, which was what sparked my interest.

So tell me a little bit more about the Lotus Project.

Empowering Youth with ‘The Lotus Project’

The Lotus Project is a mentorship program focused on helping rebuild Children from loss and trauma.

So we met weekly and I paired 24 young girls going through a hard time, and that can be the loss of a parent going into foster care, that can be drug-addicted family members. So many various things, and I paired these young girls in my community with strong female role models. Often, trauma, especially childhood trauma, stems from a breakdown in a relationship. 

So reintroducing these children to a trusted adult is so healing. So we met weekly and we did relationship-building activities like art therapy, journaling, or just getting-to-know-you questions.

I was so excited to share this message that you are not alone and you've never been alone. Now it's called the Lotus Project because I was in my most difficult times and a friend said to me, " I just feel so buried by everything that's happened to me and I feel so defined. My friend said, Emily, what if you haven't been buried? What if you've just been planted? What if this is your story of growth and blooming? 

It struck me because I thought about all the things that I had gone through in my life and I thought what had propelled me to healing was actually the relationships in my life, my strong relationship with my sister.

My sister is from China, her name means the lotus flower. The lotus flower in so many different cultures is a flower that symbolizes rebirth and overcoming. It starts in the mud, grows through the water, and up to the sun. 

In that way, I wanted to share the message that you are more than where you came from.

Healing Hearts Amidst Divorce

I'm tearing up over here, it's so beautiful and I connect to so much of what you said, but I really think that starting with the grief part of your story, I think that, in young teens and young adults, divorce in the family is very common. I agree. I don't think a lot of people are talking about the grief that they feel.

I get different responses when people ask me what trauma I went through and I say divorce, but to me, that divorce was a death, it was a death. It really is, and it's the death, it's a demarcation in time where something is no longer the way it was. And it is a loss. 

I think it's really cool that you're talking about it as a loss and as something you can grieve over because it's so common, it's almost been normalized as, oh, your parents just got divorced like that. And there's a lot of people, like you said, relationships are really the influencer of trauma, and it could not only be from physical emotional, or mental abuse, but it could be the lack of presence. Sometimes within a divorce too, parents are consumed with rebuilding their lives.

I divorced my first husband and I'm remarried now but I know there was a survival mode in me that I was working a lot. My kids were smaller, there was nothing I could do to really change the circumstances at least I thought at the time, but then maybe a year or so into it, I realized they really needed my presence. It was a lot more traumatizing to them than I thought. 

I just say that because as a mom, I wish that there had been more support for my kids and even some more awareness and education for me, not all the focus was not talking badly about the other parents, but there wasn't a lot of information.

At least this was years ago for me, I got divorced in 2008, and I think that you have some type of campaign and voice around that is very needed. And that's actually where I'm headed with my future, too, dealing with women who are facing divorce.

So there's been a huge gap in how women are treated in the courtroom, but I still think we have a little ways to go. So I want to be a leader in those conversations by studying law. So I'll be attending Ohio State University this fall. Truly, issues surrounding divorce are my passion but specifically and more, is trauma and childhood trauma.

I love that again because I was saying that as a mom if I had known that more, I knew my focus needed to be on my kids. Don't get me wrong when I say I wish I would have known some things, cause I'm sure there are listeners right now if you've been through a divorce, you're like, oh, I wish I would have known some things too. 

I wish I would have during those early months and years, a lot more of my uninterrupted time, if that makes sense. 

And that was what those meetings meant. It was two hours of undivided attention from an adult and not only that, but their adult, because they met with the same mentor weekly. 

I think that as you mature and your mission to go to law school and you're working with women who are divorcing, because of the project and the perspective that you went through and presence, you get to educate them on the power of presence.

I read a quote one time that touched me too. It was attention that is the most rare and pure form of generosity. And I think that also goes along with the Lotus project and also how it's matured, as you said, because now with the title of Miss Ohio, I'm hoping to speak with legislators and governors and all different educators and first responders about implementing trauma-informed care.

That's so awesome. So what is like one lesson for you or one aha, we've shared a couple, but what's up for you right now?

Finding Radiance Through Connection

I think that different aha moments can grow too and I think the Lotus Project is very focused on not isolating in hard times. I've even caught, even as a preacher of that message. I've caught myself this past year, isolating myself out of shame and fear and in my hard times, pushing away the people who loved me.

But a big aha moment in addition to those other ones is that the people that love me cannot be scared off, if that makes sense.

Makes me tear up a little bit because I do think, listeners out there too, I think that’s an important message for you, as we go through things, we tend to cocoon and we tend to isolate and that isolation becomes very lonely.

I think a wonderful awareness to share is that to catch yourself when you notice yourself cocooning, or you notice yourself isolating or at first it might be what you need, is to give yourself your own hug. But when does it go too far? When are you starting to block the people that do love you out, and no, I'm okay, when really your soul's please, I need some connection right now.

Connectivity and relationships heal more than anything else.

And I am just curious. So as you've worked more in connection and rebuilding, has your autoimmune healed as well?

Actually, yes. There's a weird tie between your physical health and your mental health.

When my parents first divorced, I was dealing with a lot of relentless joint dislocations. Those have completely gone away. In sixth grade, I was even wheeled around because my ribs would pop out, my hips would pop out or my fingers would pop out. And so my friends were trying to help me out and they literally rolled me to the next class.

But through focusing on healing myself and healing others, I've almost healed my physical state too.

I tear up as you say that because anybody who has an add connectivity, like connective tissue stuff, it's very painful. But I realized that there's this connection, this connection to connection, which is weird, but it's true.

It's when I got an autoimmune disease, I had gone through a really rough period at a time. This is almost 10 years ago at this point, but I had put myself in a state of overdrive and I was overworking and overstressing and overdoing it completely. And as a result, my relationships were very disconnected, right?

I had another period where I was a very good provider, but I was disconnected from my kids. I was on the verge of divorce with my now husband. So that would have been divorce number two for me if I didn't get my stuff together but I stayed in this state of disarray for three years and it caused autoimmune disease.

And they can build and stack too along with that, which is why a focus on trauma, it’s so important.

I just love that so much because I ended up getting certified in trauma awareness and all that stuff too, because I did. I wanted to heal and I wanted to help other people heal.

And what I realized is that, as I started to heal myself and then I also started helping other people here heal and I felt more connected to myself, I felt more connected to other people. I felt more connected to the universe or God, whatever word, but the connection was strong.

And once my connection went strong, my ANA started testing negative. I still have a little bit of arthritis in some of my joints, but it's very minimal. I'm off of medication and I really do feel that the healing came from the emotional work.

I was so excited to talk to you about that when I read that in your bio. I was like, I cannot wait to open up Pandora's box on that conversation. You don't meet many people who have faced a connective tissue disorder.

You don't, and it's like one of those things, like yours is more pop out, like your joints were popping out and ribs. I can't even imagine how painful that was.

It was awful, I can't even tell you, I still face some joint dislocations now and then, but I focused on rebuilding my muscles, which has helped keep my joints together. And so I saw that you do a lot of yoga. I'm a Kundalini yoga teacher. I want to get my yoga certification in the near future.

You totally should, just because of the self-connection, and then you have the tools to help others. But what it did for me and my healing was like, I wouldn't be the person I am today without. Like we're the same, and so that's just wonderful that at 18 years old, I feel like you're a very wise 18.

And I say that cause you are, but I also say that because I get kind of teary saying it is that so needed because so many, like my kids, are 20 and 22 and I have four kids. So I have two biologicals, and two stepkids and all the kids are in between that 20 to 22 range.

And they're all doing great and all of that stuff but I say I'm very familiar with the age group and I don't feel that there is a lot of information coming to them that's this positive from their age group if that makes sense.

Representation is so important. I come from a place where there's such a rarity of representation, not only with my age group but also with the opioid epidemic that we're going through.

And I think a lot of the children here in my area, so I had a county are struggling with thinking that they could never make it. They could never do opportunities that they see others on social media. That's also part of my drive to go into the pageant industry is it gave me that platform to show other people that they could go for their dreams.

While pageantry wasn't always my dream, advocacy was, and scholarship was. Miss America is really unique, and it's such a cool experience. Did you know that you are more likely to have a son in the Super Bowl than a daughter in the Miss America Organization? Isn't that amazing? 

That kind of like you said having someone from this age group is super important and also having someone from my area of Ohio has been really helpful and really unique.

It’s interesting that you mentioned the opioid epidemic also, because, God, I'm like, hey, there's just so much we can get, so much to unpack.

In my personal life, both my mom and my dad have passed away, and both of them have passed away with complications from prescription and pills. What I learned from that was my parents were really cool people. They were full-time musicians when I was born, beautifully gifted, and things like that.

I feel like the pressure of trying to figure out adulthood, like raising kids, work, bills, and things like this, I'm going to use these words, disconnection, and connections since that's like our theme here. I feel like they got very disconnected from the truth of who they were and it started to feel daunting to reconnect.

And so prescription pills, even though they had doctors and everything was legally done, I didn't have any straight drug addiction stuff, but it's still complications with them, still led to their passing. It made me really realize that connection is the most important thing that we can do.

I think sometimes connection also can redefine how we think of an addict, and I think with the children who are facing addiction in their families, an important point was to not shame those people for the disease that they were facing

They lost their way and how they get back to being who they are is through positive relationships, positive reinforcement, as you said, presence, and different things like that.

So that's a really big topic for me at this point. I always say radiance. I feel like one of my missions is to help people return to the radiance.

That kind of goes with the lotus flower too because it's part of the sun. I have a lotus tattooed on my back. It's like we were meant to meet. 

Seriously, all you've shared is a lot about why you're passionate about doing what you're doing, but I always like to ask the direct question, why are you passionate about your pursuits right now?

You've Not Been Buried, You've Been Planted

I want to show young girls that they're more, that's the heart of my passion right now, my drive. I want to show little nine-year-old Emily that she has come so far and people just like little nine-year-old Emily, that her chronic illness is not who she is. Her divorce doesn't have to, have you read, it's called the Scarlet Letter. Back in high school, yeah.

I always talk about this too. I feel like when my parents got a divorce, I got painted with a giant D for divorce, and I walked around with that D forever, but it's breaking those chains and showing young girls that they're not who they used to be or what they've gone through.

Damn Emily, you just have so much light to you and so much positivity and depth and meaning that I just hope you win this Ohio, but more importantly, I hope that you never stopped sharing your message.

So we're starting to wind down. It goes so fast sometimes, especially when the conversation's great. I always like to wind down, like by getting into an empowerment statement for the listener. If you could leave the listeners with an empowering message, what would it be?

I'm going to reiterate what I said before, but my favorite thing that I like to tell people is you've not been buried, you've been planted. That's my favorite, it's so beautiful. You haven't been buried, you've been planted and you get a full opportunity to grow and blossom.


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