Chanel Johnson is Miss Michigan USA 2020. Chanel is a Detroit native and currently serves as a probation officer in Oakland County, metro Detroit. I had the wonderful opportunity to learn more about Chanel and her thoughts on a number of topics, spanning from criminal justice reform and how to reduce recidivism in juvenile inmates to her love of Detroit, to her special crowning moment in September 2019 where she was crowned in front of Carole Gist, Miss USA 1990, the first black woman to ever win Miss USA. Chanel, I am wishing you the best at Miss USA and I will be cheering for you!
Bianca: When did you start competing in pageants? Was Miss Michigan USA your first pageant?
Chanel: Miss Michigan USA was my very first pageant; however, I was very familiar with the Miss Universe organization. In particular, I have always been interested in the women who competed in the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. I made the decision to compete in the Miss Michigan pageant in March 2019 and certainly did not expect to win.
Bianca: What is your philanthropic platform for Miss Michigan USA and what message do you hope to share?
Chanel: My platform for Miss Michigan USA is to be a positive advocate for youth. Particularly those who live in underprivileged communities. I believe it is very important to speak with youth and instill the importance of good decision making. I believe spreading this message helps our communities move towards decreasing the juvenile delinquency rate that we have here in the United States. As a probation officer I encounter many young people who have found themselves dealing with the criminal justice system at a very young age and I understand how important it is to intervene earlier in the lives of children to prevent this from happening.
Bianca: If you were to become Miss USA, what do you most look forward to?
Chanel: If I were to become Miss USA, I would really look forward to getting on the road and visiting schools, juvenile detention centers and youth organizations throughout the country. Although I am targeting youth who live in underprivileged communities I believe that my message is something that applies to all youth and if I were given the opportunity to be Miss USA I would hope to have an impact on children across the United States.
Bianca: You graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a B.A. in criminal justice. You work currently as a probation officer in metro Detroit, Oakland County, correct? What does your role primarily entail?
Chanel: Yes, I graduated from Wayne State University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. WSU is Detroit’s University and I am so proud to be an Alumna. Although I represented the city of Southfield at my state pageant, I was born and raised in Detroit and it is where much of my family resides. As a probation officer, it is my duty to ensure that individuals who have been placed on community supervision are abiding by the orders that have been set forth by a judge. In addition to that, I am responsible for assisting individuals find employment, mental health treatment and help those who suffer from substance abuse get the help they need. Most importantly, I have the opportunity to assist individuals in turning their life around, and that is the most rewarding aspect of my job.
Bianca: Since you are passionate about criminal justice, what are your thoughts about criminal justice reform? It’s a broad topic, but if there are themes that you are seeing, what are those themes?
Chanel: As you said criminal justice reform is an extremely broad subject. I do believe there are certain areas that we really need to take a look at and make changes. Considering that I’m advocating for decreasing juvenile delinquency rates, I really believe that legislators and leaders in the criminal justice system need to invest more in creating more rehabilitative resources for juvenile offenders. I believe that instead of incarceration we need more programming. For example, we should invest more resources into restorative justice programming that allows young offenders to internalize the impact of their wrongdoing. I believe this sort of programming would go a long way in reducing recidivism. We also need to reevaluate sentencing guidelines to make sure we are not over punishing juvenile offenders.
Bianca: You are the first black Miss Michigan USA in 15 years. You were handed your flowers during your crowning by the first black woman to be Miss USA, Carole Gist, Miss USA 1990. What was that experience like?
Chanel: I was already in shock! I just won my first pageant and I look up and see the woman who blazed this trail for me to be a winner. To have Carole there with me was something that I will never forget. I will cherish it for the rest of my life. She paved the way for all black women to compete at Miss USA. She is such an important part of history and to have her there for my moment made it that much more special.
Bianca: What is your favorite part about being from Michigan? Michigan is so beautiful.
Chanel: My favorite part about being from Michigan is our beautiful state parks and the Great Lakes. Our state parks are amazing and there is literally something for everyone here. Whether you want to hike, bike or just have a nice afternoon with your family, the parks here can accommodate you and provides beautiful views. If I could make winter shorter, I would! But I guess you can’t have everything.
Bianca: What are you doing to prepare for the pageant? I can imagine you have quite a rigorous exercise routine etc.!
Chanel: I am doing everything I can from mental to physical preparation for Miss USA 2020. It is a part of the most prestigious pageant organization in the world and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to even walk across that stage. I am working out every day and most importantly making sure that I keep my mind clear of negativity and unnecessary stress. I think the most important thing I can do, is ensure that I am going into this competition with a clear mind and a positive spirit. I am forever grateful for this opportunity.