AshevilleHendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

Miss N.C. urges youths be ‘SAFE’ — Support, Accept, Forgive, Evolve

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By Pete Zamplas – Reigning Miss North Carolina McKenzie Jade Faggart urged Etowah Elementary students on Monday to diffuse potential bullying by being supportive to troubled-acting classmates and clustering with positive-acting friends.

“Be kind, be gentle, be generous” she told youngest students. “Help a friend. Hug a friend.”

Faggart, 21, spoke to three groups of two grades at a time, for nearly two total hours. Her “platform” is anti-bullying, and she campaigns on that around the state.

She espouses her notion of SAFE — Support, Accept, Forgive, Evolve. She explained each concept of The SAFE Project she created to help youths prevent and deal with bullying. Friends supporting each other emotionally or with simple kindness and praise is a big start. “If they feel bad, help them feel good,” she told K-1 students about classmates. “Wake them up. Make them happy, and energetic. Let them know it’s a brand new day.”

She advised elder students that “if someone’s in a real bad mood, very snappy and mad at you it may mean something’s going on. They brought it to school. It’s your job to be kind to them” to try to diffuse the situation, to help them and protect oneself from bullying. “You can be there for that person.”

Once a bully is after someone and especially if upset but not saying over what, then she said “try talking about it. You can get through it.” Of course, it may end up best to avoid a perpetually-aggressive youth — at least after trying reasoning.

Faggart reasons the more people accept others’ distinctions, the less they are apt to bully. Also the distinctive person is less apt to get defensive about being criticized, and retaliate or bully others in turn. “Not everybody is the same,” she said. “But you can’t always judge a book by its cover.”

She told students it is tough but helpful to forgive others’ wrongdoings, or asking for forgiveness to ease a feud. Forgiving internally is self-healing, easing sting of being around a bully, she noted. “Lift those hurt feelings off of our shoulders. It helps you get through difficult times.”

Genuinely no longer worrying about a bully eases oneself. Lacking that, acting not bothered by a bully denies the desired response and can deter the bully. Going a step further with forgiveness such as by simple friendliness shows mature resilience, she said. That might even spark a breakthrough, she said. “If they’re mature enough, they’ll apologize to you.” If not, a person can then avoid the bullying friend.

“Evolve” in SAFE includes developing one’s school and job skills, creative talents, personality, patience, even temperament and other qualities. “If you have a talent, use it. Embrace it,” she said. Also the better one feels about oneself, the greater the person self-relies rather than hinging happiness on what others say or do.

A way to “deal with emotionally-damaging issues” is to figure one’s “‘safe place, and provide that safe space for others.” In honing her platform, she has stated this: “Together, we can support each other through community, accept who we are and those around us, forgive those who have wronged us, and evolve into a better self we can be proud of.”

She asked students what causes stress and thus bullying, or being prone to it. A first-grader realized it helps to “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Faggart replied that “Golden Rule” is her favorite rule.

Fourth and fifth-graders cited family strife, illness or death; “mental issues,” worries over grades, stand-out size and looks, jealousy of fancier clothes or a better student or athlete, and peer pressure to keep up with as Faggart put it “the big dogs” at school.

Girls especially “compare ourselves to others,” she said. “Take care of your appearance. Be real, and honest.” She urged sticking to one’s “standards” rather than following the in crowd, and setting paths as needed. “You can become a leader.”

The Concord native is based in Raleigh. Miss Hendersonville organizers Jeff Jones and Jon Vance scheduled her in WNC all week, starting Sunday at a Princess Milkshake Social at Mike’s on Main in Hendersonville. On Monday she visited Etowah’s school cafeteria, Asheville V.A Medical Center, then taught a master class at Pat’s School of Dance.

Faggart knows what sort of extra peer pressures talented youths can face, and the blessings and curses of being in the popular crowd and spotlight in a small (Christian K-12) school. Her class had 52 grads.

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She was a cheerleader, and studio dancer. She told The Tribune she initially hung out with other cheerleaders and other most popular students. But by her senior year, she needed a change in friends. “I felt like I didn’t have any friends,” she told K-1 students. She felt “depressed,” and much “anxiety.”

She told The Tribune she felt her inner circle drifted apart, wanting more of her time than she had after winning Miss Outstanding Teen. She wondered which sought a status trophy friend. She said she was bullied after winning her first state crown — perhaps out of jealousy and resentment. She later noted aside she felt so threatened, she filed a restraining order against a friend turned bitter antagonist. She said she cried in counseling, when talking of predicaments.

Regularly “journaling” her feelings helped ease stress. “It’s always easier when you have an outlet” such as sports or arts as she has with dance, she told elder students. The 5-foot-6 blonde danced since age two, with her mother Tracy’s strong support. “When you dance, you don’t have to talk. You get to move,” McKenzie said. “It’s where I let those emotions out.” Dance spurred extra purpose.

She did a lyrical dance to “Rise Up,” to win Miss America’s talent award for those outside the 15 finalists last September. She crowns her Miss N.C. successor in Raleigh, on June 24.

Getting more compatible friends is most helpful, she told students. “If you don’t like how they judge people or are mean, move on from them.” She did so for her last high school semester, and felt more relaxed.

Further, she “reinvented” herself in college for a fresh start. She is taking a year off ahead of her senior year at UNC-Charlotte. Communications is her major. The $15,000 scholarship as Miss N.C. helps. Beyond that prize, her aim as a contestant was to “get on stage to do my talent, and talk about my platform.” She told younger children she has traveled a lot, and attended parades, hospital and schools..

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Miss N.C. McKenzie Faggart kneels at K-1 kids’ level, to better relate to them. In back are Jeff Jones and Jon Vance, who run local pageants and arranged Faggart’s visit. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Faggart won Miss N.C. on her third try, contending as Miss Mecklenburg. She was Little Miss Mecklenburg, at age seven. At 16 she was N.C.’s Outstanding Teen, in 2011. She then made the top dozen for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, and was its top People’s Choice.

She suggests pageant contestants avoid incriminating Facebook posts judges might see. “People can act one way,” she said. “But what you say on social media tells more about who you really are” — also apparent to friends.

She ended inspirational talks at Etowah by being in group photos, then leading students in swaying and gesturing hip-hop Whip, Nae Nae then Dab moves.

McKenzie Faggart chronicles her Miss N.C. journey on facebook.com/missamericaNC.

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