In a COVID-19 world, Burns’ message endures
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
In a normal world, the Miss Texas for America Pageant would have taken place in Corsicana’s downtown Palace Theatre April 30 through May 2.
2020 hasn’t been a normal world.
For, Ba’Leigh Burns, the reigning Miss Texas for America, her 2019 crown was set to transition to the new winner in the spring. Burns, an Odessa native, attended Trinity High School of Midland, and studied classical ballet at Midland Festival Ballet as a company member for fifteen years, a skill she credits as helping her transition into the pageant world.
As a student of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, she received her Bachelors of Science in Psychology with a double major in Anthropology. However, Burns’ first course of study was archaeology, a course of study she eventually set aside.
“I wanted to be like Indiana Jones,” Burns said with a laugh, though she quickly learned that Harrison Ford’s cinematic adventures were inaccurate to the actual experience.
Unsure of what specific field she wanted to apply her studies, Burns began an internship at Fort Worth Refugee Services, which later developed into volunteer work at the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital in Big Spring Texas.
At the hospital, Burns noted the VA did not have the full staff coverage and resources necessary to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome on a level they needed.
“They were doing the best that they could,” Burns said. “But I realized this is a need, and this is an area that maybe I can help fill that niche.”
Burns realized this was an opportunity to provide necessary care and assistance to those in need.
“Suicide with the military is an epidemic in our country right now,” Burns continued. ”Getting to see that first-hand and getting to interact with mothers that have lost their children, and seeing the impact…”
Burns paused for a moment.
“To me there’s this group of men and women who have sacrificed so much for me and my freedom. And when they come home… We’re not really getting them all the resources that they need to succeed.”
Burns added that veterans suicide averages 22 people a day after they return to civilian life from active duty.
During her 2019 reign as Miss Texas for America, Burns used her platform to advocate finding resources and connections for veterans while highlighting a greater public understanding how the condition affects those soldiers that come home.
Titled “All the Way Home,” Burns shares her message through her social media and public events, strengthening support systems for veterans who haven’t mentally and emotionally returned to civilian life.
“Especially in the South, especially in Texas, we are all very supportive of our military and our veterans,” Burns said. “But a lot of people don’t realize how big the problem is. Texas is one of the largest military states in the nation, and for me living in Texas, being Miss Texas for America, this is a platform that needed to be heard and addressed.”
These days, the spring of 2020 feels like another lifetime. But Burns, and the Miss Texas for America pageant, have found a way to move forward in the new reality.
Burns provided a warm greeting as masked beauty contestants flowed in and out of the Palace Theatre’s main lobby, the familiar energy of pageant preparation retained its well-ordered chaos in a new age of face shields and social distancing.
The 2020 event itself was virtual, a beauty pageant with no live audience. Dress rooms lined the inside of the theater where the contestants could change throughout the production.
“The show must go on,” Burns said. “We adapt.”
Burns’ own personal goals haven’t changed, though the world itself has in half a year’s time. Since the spring, the 2019 Miss Texas for America turned in her last finals for her Master’s program, finishing her practicum at TCU. She continues to volunteer, providing trauma counseling with the Children’s Advocacy Center, a community agency providing services and therapy for child abuse victims and their non-offending family members. Burns provided video therapy for her students during the pandemic.
The 2019 crownholder also has prepared to pass her reign to her successor during the August show, Jimaniece Berry of Houston.
The experience, as Burns described, has been “a whirlwind.”
“I’ve been staying positive,” Burns said. “I think that’s the key, so I’m starting to take the little things that we take for granted sometimes, start to become more important right now.”
Making more time for family and friends and self-care have been two of her larger personal priorities.
With her reign ending, Burns plans on working on her licensed practitioner counseling hours, and applying to doctoral programs.Though no longer studying archaeology, Burns still wants to go on another dig one day. In September, she plans on making a roadtrip to Utah as she is in the wedding party for Miss Utah.
“One of the things that came from Nationals were some really great friendships,” Burns said with a smile visibly forming behind her mask.
Burns still plans to continue her support of veterans with PTSD, as she remains in contact with the support organizations she partnered with prior to the pageant.
“It’s been an adapting time for all of us,” Burns said.
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Ba’Leigh Burns poses at the 2020 Miss Texas for America pageant, held at the Palace Theatre. – Photo by Guy Chapman