Niki Kafashzadeh just finished her graduate studies in speech language pathology a few weeks ago at Howard University and she completed her undergraduate at University of Maryland, College Park. She currently works at a rehabilitation center in Maryland, where she works closely with other speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists and doctors. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer two years ago. "I was 23 at the time and it was a terrifying experience."
Pageants News : What inspired you to walk on the course of beauty pageants?
Niki Kafashzadeh : I was never a cookie cutter kind of gal. I am one of the few girls with an Iranian/ Persian heritage to compete at a national level from the United States. Last year, I was the first Iranian American girl to ever be a state level finalist for Miss. USA. I had made the top ten for Miss 52 for Miss USA, a wildcard contestant that was selected by a panel of judges including Pia Wurtzbach and Sherri Hill. Being an Iranian American, doing beauty pageants are taboo and not very common given my background. Not only do I want to allow girls from different backgrounds to come out and do something out of their comfort zone, but to educate others about my culture as well. I believe as human beings we all come with unique talents and things we may know that others don't. I feel that we each should try to educate others of those things, be it our culture, our background, our field of expertise etc. I would love to enrich others about my culture, and bring even more attention to diversity in the pageantry world.
I was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer two years ago and had two separate surgeries. I was 23 at the time and it was a terrifying experience, however I am now healthy and dependent on medications (synthroid) for the rest of my life. Thyroid cancer is very common and goes undiagnosed in young women, and I hope to bring awareness of this cancer because mine was diagnosed by luck. Others may not be as lucky as me, however, if caught early, thyroid cancer is one of the most curable types of cancer.
Lastly, about 42.5 million Americans alone suffer from mental health issues. I have seen friends and family members suffer from different disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolarism etc. What the general public doesn't know though is that it's okay to have mental health problems, people just need to come out and talk about it and have someone to talk to it about. We need to let people know that it's okay and they are not alone. I am very passionate about this issue, and just because it's not something we see symptoms of with our eyes doesn't mean that it doesn't exist or will just go away. I want to promote the idea of sharing how you feel, not keeping it in, and not shaming mental health. Knowing you have someone to talk to or turn to can come a long way.
Overall, these are some of the many issues that I am passionate about that hit close to home to me. Pageantry has helped me advocate and speak on these issues as a platform.
Who is your favorite beauty queen ?
This is an incredibly challenging question for me because I am a beauty pageant buff. Deshauna Barber our Miss USA 2016 and Kara McCullough our current Miss USA, are both two of my friends that I competed with at Miss DC USA in 2015. They are both wonderful young women who have broken so many molds and barriers and I applaud them for the changes they have made. Deshauna, being the first active military member in the USA and now an army Captain and Kara being a chemist.
However, despite my friendships with both these lovely ladies I'd have to say I also absolutely adore Nia Sanchez, Miss USA 2014 because she reminds me a lot of myself. We both worked for Disney/similar Disney companies, have black belts, and we both have very fun, bubbly personalities. I've always adored her and her positive outlook on life.
What would you advise any young girl out there who has a dream of being a queen one day?
I think you should absolutely go for it, pageantry gets a bad rep, but honestly, I've met some of the kindest, smartest, and open minded girls through pageantry. Plus so many people don't realize how many of our past pageant queens are now actors and so many doors and opportunities are open because of it. Halle Berry was Miss Ohio USA in 1986 and Gal Gadot (wonder woman) was Miss Israel and competed in Miss Universe in 2004. I think pageantry is a great outlet to and way to make a change and you can be the first in your community to do something different. Like I mentioned before, I am breaking molds by being one of the first Iranian women to compete in the US at a national level. Our past two Miss USA's have been breaking molds and every girl is unique in her own way. Pageantry is a great outlet and way to change the way of the world and breaking stereotypes by starting with yourself.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you?
I have a black belt in tae kwon doe and I am obsessed with the evil eye.
How do you imagine your life in ten years?
Ten years down the line, I imagine myself with a full time career as a speech language pathologists either at a children's hospital or a rehabilitation center. I will probably not be in DC and move to LA or NYC if I continue my modeling career. I hope to have a dog, and if I'm not engaged by 30, I plan on adopting a child from a third world country because I've always wanted a family and not all families are nuclear. I hope to continue promoting and advocating about issues I am passionate about as the years go by.
What is your message to young girls and young women?
Go with your heart, go with your gut, you don't want to look back in ten years and think "why didn't I do that?" Work hard, set goals, be nice to people, love yourself, and help those less fortunate than you when you can.