Tyra McFarland has found a unique and special way to combine her education, love of family and passion into one unlikely journey—beauty pageantry. Crowned Miss Southern Wisconsin this March, Tyra, a self-proclaimed “military brat, who moved from place to place with her mother,” stumbled into pageantry a year ago.
Currently in her fourth year majoring in Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with plans to become a television broadcaster, Tyra’s road to beauty pageantry began when she took some advice from another former beauty queen.
“Last spring I was interning with TMJ4’s “Morning Blend” when one of the co-hosts, Tiffany Ogle, shared how much she had grown when she entered a pageant and was crowned Miss Minnesota. She said it helped define her values and made her more confident,” said Tyra.
Tyra was so intrigued by the conversation that she entered the Miss Southern Wisconsin Pageant and won Miss Congeniality and was first runner-up in the first pageant in which she ever competed. One year later, she won the title of Miss Southern Wisconsin.
If that isn’t unexpected enough, for the talent portion of the contest, Tyra and her sister, Patria, wrote a monologue, drawing from stigmas about mental health.
“Mental health issues have always concerned me personally, because it has affected my family on so many levels. Pageantry has provided me with a unique platform to raise awareness about mental health—something that is too often swept under the rug. Mental illness does not discriminate. This is an issue we all have to face,” said Tyra.
“My mother has been discriminated against because of mental illness–depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—from her days in the military, ADHD, thyroid disease, and the list goes on. My maternal grandmother passed away from Alzheimer ’s disease and dementia, and my brother, who is bi-polar and schizophrenic, lives a very successful life (married and has a daughter). All these are mental health issues and they all have stigmas attached to them. Mental illnesses are common, real and treatable,” she said.
During her monologue about mental health issues—in 90-seconds—Tyra’s powerful performance sheds light on a composite of individuals’ struggles and hopes of people coping with mental illness.
In addition to using her pageantry platform to raise awareness about mental health issues, Tyra volunteers with Mental Health American of Wisconsin. She loves sports and recently had the opportunity to meet and speak with Sylvia Mackey, wife of deceased Pro Football Hall of Famer, John Mackey. Sylvia runs a foundation in memory of her husband, who was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in 2006. He passed away in July of 2011, at the age of 69 of FTD.
“Sylvia Mackey, who was John’s caregiver, now travels the country talking about mental health issues. She talks about the process, embracing mental illness and creating more awareness. I admire her and what she does, and I want to interact with people about mental illness on a broader level,” said Tyra.
Now that she’s been ‘bitten’ by the pageantry bug, Tyra sees an opportunity to take her platform nationally, as she refines and presents her monologue during the talent portion of pageants. Right now, the reigning Miss Southern Wisconsin is preparing to compete in the Miss Wisconsin Pageant in June. To that end, on May 20th she is holding a fundraiser at Surg on the Water, 102 N. Water Street, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Donations and a silent auction will help her pay for entry fees and support her work as Miss Southern Wisconsin. The donations will go towards her platform, support a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about mental health issues and a scholarship.
For more information or to donate, email her at [email protected] Also, like her page on Facebook at ‘All Kinds of Minds!’