NORTH OGDEN — Rachel Alder never thought she was going to participate in a beauty pageant. In fact, she didn’t even know how to properly walk in high heels.

Alder, 21, swam in high school and was an attacker for California’s Riverside City College water polo team. Then she decided to compete in a beauty pageant.

“I had to learn how to walk better in high heels,” Alder joked. “I’m an athlete, so for me, it was very new. I had to learn about makeup, politics, current events.”

Alder was crowned Miss North Ogden 2018 on June 30. She is the first African-American to represent North Ogden in the Miss Utah Scholarship Pageant and the Miss America Organization. She will compete at the Miss Utah Scholarship pageant in 2019. 

But in her first public appearance — the 2018 North Ogden Fourth of July Parade — things turned sour. Toward the end of the parade, someone shouted a racial slur at her.

“It’s not something I haven’t experienced before, but because it was in that capacity, it made it different,” Alder said. “It showed me why it’s important that we have diversity in these kind of things.”

In a Facebook post that night, Alder said she is proud to be African-American but acknowledged she was intimidated at first to compete in the pageant due to the lack of diversity.

“I love my country just the same as anyone else,” the post reads. “Being the first African American Miss North Ogden is something special to me and I hope that little girls like me out there watching, see that beauty comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes.”

Alder has been involved in the community through the Ivy Girl Academy and The Ivy Foundation, two nonprofits which aim to empower at-risk youth through leadership training.

That’s where she met one of her first mentors.

Jessie Funk, 34, is the founder of the Ivy Girl Academy. She said she was in charge of a mentoring camp where Alder was a participant about eight years ago.

She remembers how involved Alder was at the event.

“She took initiative and shot me an email and said she wanted to be involved,” Funk said. “She is pretty incredible. She is the type of person that is brave enough to say ‘OK, we are going to figure this out as we go.’”

Alder transformed that bravery into action. She is now the program director at The Ivy Foundation and her platform as Miss North Ogden 2018, “Choose Your Own Statistic: Taking A Look at the Positive Numbers,” focuses on incorporating positive statistics and presenting them to foster kids and at-risk youth.

She said she wants other kids to see what they can accomplish so that they can break with negative cycles at their homes.

Alder, who was adopted when she was a little girl and grew up with an older brother in North Ogden. She was on the swim team at Viewmont High School before moving to California for college.

She is currently a sophomore at Weber State University and is majoring in neuroscience and social work with an emphasis in childhood trauma.

“I have always wanted to be a social worker,” Alder said. “I’ve always loved what social workers did and their impact in my life.”

Amy Rasmussen has known Alder for almost three years. They work together at The Ivy Foundation, and Rasmussen was the one who encouraged Alder to participate in Miss North Ogden.

Rasmussen, a former pageant contestant herself, said she saw in Alder what a true miss should be.

“When you get into Miss America you realize it’s more than walking in heels,” Rasmussen said. “It’s about the full package of being a woman.”

She thought it was a good fit for Alder since she could keep helping other at-risk youth and could benefit from the scholarship attached to the Miss title.

“It’s about time we have diversity in our state,” Rasmussen said. “She’s never taken the position of victim. She is very humble and very real.”

Alder will travel to Ghana next week with a group from the Ivy Girl Academy to teach English at an orphanage and build a hygiene center at the orphanage school.

When she gets back, Alder will continue showing Northern Utah what beauty is.

“True beauty doesn’t have anything to do with pigment,” Alder said. “It has everything to do with heart and I’m really excited to share my heart.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel  and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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