Ashley Love-Mills, Miss North Carolina 2013, usually starts with a story when she meets with students to talk about the problem of bullying.
It’s about a girl who was happy and doing well in school until her classmates started to spread rumors behind her back. Things got so bad that this girl didn’t know what she would do.
Love-Mills explains what an awful experience it was for the girl, and then she gives them the kicker: The girl was her. The reveal usually comes as a surprise to the students, who can’t imagine her as a victim of bullying.
But she was, and it’s part of why she competes in pageants: to have a way to teach kids that bullying can happen to anyone, anywhere, and that it’s unacceptable behavior.
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“I just saw this as a platform for reaching as many youth as possible,” said Love-Mills, 24, who is vying to become Miss USA and hopes to eventually compete in the Miss Universe pageant. The Miss USA pageant airs Sunday night (9 p.m. on NBC), and during the broadcast 15 semifinalists will be announced for the title.
Love-Mills, a Raleigh resident who makes her living as a model, works with Peaceful Schools-NC on her anti-bullying efforts, a campaign she has dubbed “Reach For More – Be Better Than Average.” She also has been working with the state’s Department of Instruction to create a curriculum that teachers can use in their classrooms to address bullying.
She said the work is worth it when she hears from students that she made a difference in their lives.
Love-Mills attended Wakefield High School and graduated from N.C. State in 2010 with a degree in media communications. She didn’t grow up expecting to compete in pageants.
When she was a senior in high school, she received a letter inviting her to participate in the Miss Teen North Carolina USA. She threw it away.
But then she watched a pageant and found herself impressed with the confidence of the girls. She decided to give it a try and headed down a path that most recently landed her in Las Vegas for the Miss USA contest.
The pageant is divided into three areas: evening gowns, swimsuits and interviews. The latter two are her favorites. The swimsuit is a great chance to show some personality, said Love-Mills, but it all comes down to the interview.
“Everyone looks great, but once they get to know you,” that’s what makes the difference, she said.