Miss Hilton Head: Amanda Woods
Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Mark Staff Photography
Amanda Woods was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, but it was no green grass and picket fence fairytale. Before she could even say the word “dad,” her father was arrested for making counterfeit Visa® Gold cards and subsequently bilking businesses out of 40 million dollars. He spent the majority of Woods’ childhood in prison.
“My first vivid memory is in prison,” said Woods. “I was two years old and screaming for my daddy as the guards took him away.”
Woods visited her father every four to five months, each visit ending with tears and desperation; but despite the circumstance and the horrifying ordeal, she always sensed a deeper connection. She also vowed not to follow in his footsteps.
Raised by her mother and grandparents, Woods felt like the odd one out, “I was isolated and scared,” she said. And if visiting her father in prison was earth shattering, it was the sexual abuse she suffered at the hand of a close family member for two years beginning at age eight that completely rocked her world—more pain to harbor.
When Woods was 10, her father was released from prison. And like a revolving door, her mother went in. Woods spent a lot of time asking “why me?”, and she envied her friends who seemed so carefree. But, with her father out of prison, she finally had the chance to truly bond with this man from whom she had been physically separated but emotionally linked. Their relationship flourished.
Her father left prison a changed man, hell bent on writing his autobiography—not an easy task for a man with six felony convictions and few job prospects. He was a struggling writer with 100 rejection letters to prove how tough the road would be, but rejection also served as his motivation.
“If you work hard, you get rewarded,” was Victor Woods’ mantra. He was correct. He became a published author with Simon & Schuster and today travels the country speaking to at-risk youth and making regular appearances on Fox News, CNN and more than likely your favorite morning show.
Woods smiles as she says this about her dad: “He’s a character. He was like the black version of Catch Me If You Can, and look at him now.”
As a teenager, Woods had the privilege to travel with her father and share her story at some of the most challenged schools in Chicago. During that time, she made a promise to herself that she would not let her past dictate her future and she would do everything in her power to ensure her success as an adult. Thankfully, her mother also redirected her own life, after her release from prison; she has been Woods’ biggest supporter and has played a vital role in her journey.
Woods has witnessed the impact of her father’s story and her mother’s turnaround and knows that her time is now. It’s time to tell her story and give hope to children who are dealing with very real adult problems.
So, how does a girl from Chicago end up in the Lowcountry? That’s easy. A boy—her sweet boyfriend Jerome, who courted her with lattes and eventually won her over. “He charmed the pants off of me, literally,” she said with a smirk.
And, that is why I love this girl! She says what she thinks. In addition to her 34-25-31 measurements, honesty could be her best feature.
That honesty is why she’ll also tell you that when first presented with the idea of a beauty pageant, she scoffed. “I’m not a pageant girl,” she said; however, today she has the Miss Hilton Head Island sash to prove that she must be doing something right. The next step in her journey is the Miss South Carolina USA Pageant in Charleston, November 16 and 17. There, she’ll don the usual swimsuit and evening gown and compete against 45-50 other young women for the crown.
A graduate of Act One Studios performing arts school in Chicago and a veteran of myriad SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design)-produced films, it isn’t the stage that she seeks. And as you can imagine, Woods isn’t in this just for the crown. No, she seeks the platform that the title will provide.
“I want to use what I have learned to help other people. I spent most of my childhood alone and abandoned, wishing there was someone I could relate to. I just wanted someone to listen. If I can be that someone to another child, I’ll consider myself a success,” Woods said.
So, what does she think the most important element of the pageant is?
“The personal interviews and the on-stage questions,” she said. Only the top five finalists even get the opportunity for the on-stage questions, but regardless, Woods, is practicing every night. And it is that sweet boyfriend who is keeping her on task, having prepared almost 400 questions for non-stop “fun.” The list of questions is indeed overwhelming—some pulled from news headlines, worldwide trends, controversial and now issues and others personal perspective inquiries that run the gamut from ‘do you believe in horoscopes?’ to ‘what color best describes your outlook on life?’
That’s a lot of time preparing for the top five, I muse. Woods looks me dead in the eye. “Um, if I’m doing this, I’m doing it to win,” she said.
So there you go. She’s in it to win it folks. She wants to be a good example—to share her story with others, in the hopes that she can change the life of just one child (“more would be great…”).
“My Dad told me once, if everyone wrote their problem on a piece of paper and put it in a bowl, and you had to pick one, I guarantee you’d want your own piece of paper back,” Woods said. That’s echoed in her head, and as she realizes that she has 75 percent of her life left to live, it’s time to make a difference.
She’s not blonde or blue-eyed or six feet tall. And, she’s never had a cameo appearance on an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras. She is the anti-pageant girl, and that is why we should all love her. She’s the underdog. And after spending just a couple hours with her, I really want her to win.
For more about Amanda Woods and how you can help her on her journey to the crown, like her Facebook page at MissHiltonHeadIslandScUsa2013AmandaWoods. Support this girl with a story who can really use this platform to help others.