On June 28, Allie Graves beat out 38 other contestants to become the new Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen. She was also the recipient of the Preliminary and Overall Talent Award, Community Service Award, and Miss Congeniality. She has all the bling you might expect from Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen. The crown. The sash. The beautiful dresses. The $5,000 college scholarship. She is talented, well-spoken, and beautiful. But to Allie, the new title, and her participation in pageants in general, is so much more than the bling and recognition. It’s an opportunity to share her story of survival and triumph over abuse with those who may be experiencing something similar.
Allie was born in Galveston, Texas, to parents who weren’t quite ready for a child. “They left me at the hospital at first,” says Allie. “But my biological father ended up coming back and taking me to some of his relatives in Texarkana. And they were no more fit.” Because of the history of abuse and dysfunction in his family, her biological father ended up trying to find somewhere else for her to go. “He went around knocking on doors and eventually came across Wake Village First Baptist Church, and there was a Mother’s Day Out program there, which is like a daycare basically,” she says. April Graves was the Mother’s Day Out director there at the time and took Allie in for the day. When Allie’s father didn’t come back at the end of the day, April had no choice but to take Allie home with her and care for her. “She really had no awareness for what to do in that situation,” said Allie. “She knew that if he wasn’t coming back, then they were the only people who were really going to take care of me.” Allie stayed with the Graves family for 17 months.
In those 17 months, Allie was loved and cared for, and the Graves family became attached. But after spending those 17 months together, a circuit judge ordered that she be placed back with her biological father’s family. “They ordered that I go back with his family because we were blood related, but they didn’t understand the fact that family is more than being blood related,” she says. She then entered into four years of neglect and abuse.
“No one really knew what was happening to me during those four years,” Allie says. April Graves was a volunteer at Wake Village Elementary School, where Allie was going to school at the time. “She made sure she had connections so she could try to stay informed with what was happening,” she explains. “She would drive by and make sure that I was okay, and most of the time, I wasn’t. I was never clean.” After four long years, another family member, who came in and out of the house all the time, saw the abuse and called CPS. “I never stepped back into that house.”
Everything changed for Allie from there. She was placed back with the Graves family, with whom she had formed a safe and loving relationship those several years before. The Graves family wanted to adopt her, and at age five, Allie’s adoption was finalized. Under the care of a loving and attentive family, Allie’s personality really began to blossom. “I was placed in dance, and in church, so they had me singing. I was in musicals. Every part of my personality came out,” she says.
There were times however, when the neglect in her past became apparent. “I remember being defensive when I first came into the house,” she says. “There were times when mom was just trying to make me a sandwich and I was like ‘No, I can do it on my own’ because I was so used to doing everything on my own. But I was just as spoiled as the next kid within a couple of years.”
The Graves always made sure that Allie was aware of her story and knew that it wasn’t something to be embarrassed of. “Sometimes people don’t tell their child when they’re young and they don’t understand. They think ‘Okay, so was I not wanted?’” Allie says. “But my family made sure that I knew that I was wanted and that I’m not a victim of abuse. I am an overcomer and all of these uplifting, encouraging, and realistic things, and it made me into who I am today.”
Allie was placed into that life of abuse and neglect, sixteen years ago, on June 28, 2003. Exactly four years later, on June 28 2007, she was removed from that situation. June 28 seems to be a reoccurring date for Allie, because she was crowned MTOT on June 28, 2019.
Allie had been competing in the Miss Texas’ Outstanding Teen pageant for four years before finally capturing the title. “I’ve learned so much about myself and my story through the process of competing and have learned how to get the message gets across that its not just a victim kind of story. It’s a ‘These are the cards that I’ve been given, and God had a much bigger plan than what my family and I could see,’ and now we are able to see what He was doing in those moments,” she says. “We’re not going to use that as an advantage to say ‘Oh I’m a victim.’”
To Allie, creating awareness about child abuse and neglect is the most important thing she can do with her platform. There are 24 million people in Texas and there are around 30,000 children in foster care. Allie’s platform allows her to go to schools and share her story with children, some of who may be one of those 30,000. She has a book that was written and illustrated for her called “Buddy’s Life” and it helps her tell her story to children who may not yet quite be able to grasp the concepts of abuse and neglect completely. “It has the same message of ‘Buddy’s being neglected, he’s crying, he doesn’t have enough food to eat,’” she explains. “Just pointing out those little things that are like ‘Oh that’s not right.’ Basically, it points out what’s right and what’s wrong. And then I always tell my story and explain to them, ‘You know, Buddy and I have the same story.’” With the older kids, she makes sure to let them know that its a big deal to know who the trusted people are in your life.
It is not only children who need to be aware of abuse and the warning signs of abuse. Educators spend more time with children than anyone and are at the front lines in being able to stop abuse and neglect. “As an educator, you don’t have to take the child home and raise them as your own,” she says. “Just tell someone. Someone in an authority position.”
Aside from obvious physical warning signs, Allie says that children should not be defensive in what are seemingly normal situations. “There was this little girl who was five years old, and most five year olds love taking pictures with girls with crowns on and are super in to it, even if they’re shy,” she says. “This little girl was trying to get her jacket off, and she would not let me help her at all, not even her foster father could help her. She was very defensive and looked at me as if I was crazy for thinking I could help her. Five year olds shouldn’t be like that.” If educators notice that a child is wearing the same clothing every day and doesn’t seem to ever be clean, that is another cause for concern.
Allie feels that if adult authority figures are aware and attentive, that it is not hard to see who is not being treated how they should be at home. “I think that it really is that obvious,” she says. “I think just becoming aware that one in five children are being abused or neglected… thats a lot.”
Allie’s platform is deep… deeper than most teen pageant platforms. But it is something she has so much passion for. She knows that once her year-long reign ends, she will have to give up the crown, sash, and title, but she will not give up on sharing her story. Her hopes for the future are to continue speaking with children experiencing the same things she did that and letting them know that “you have gifts and abilities and you have so much to offer to the world.”
As for the immediate future, Allie is not done competing. She is soon to compete in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant from July 23 through July 27. “This is the definition of a once in a lifetime opportunity for me,” she says. But the pageant is so much more than just a pageant to her, “It’s not like a big pageant where everyone only cares about themselves. It’s service.”
Even if you aren’t attending the national pageant, you can watch Allie compete and support her on July 27 by watching the live stream at http://live.maoteen.org/