When Deshauna Barber says, “If not you, then who?” she’s not just quoting a mantra to feign motivation for a crowd of listeners. She’s remembering how it helped her wade through repeated rejection and setbacks to build a successful life that she now says is “indulged in entrepreneurship.” She spoke with Military Influencer about overcoming the many challenges that accompanied her journey, intentional diversity, and what it looks like to really support the troops.
The nation was introduced to Barber, a former Army Reserve captain, when she was crowned Miss USA in 2016. In her widely viewed viral speech, she recounts her six attempts competing at the state level before winning and going on to compete nationally. Despite being a Black minority in a historically predominantly white contest, Barber knew her worth and that among the sea of faces, she deserved to be in the room as well. And that’s why she didn’t give up. She held onto the mantra as a constant reminder of her equal worth.
“I come from two individuals that were African Americans within the military. They did a really great job of instilling confidence, self-worth, and self-value into myself and my siblings,” Barber said.
Having this platform paved the way for Barber to create change in spaces that reach all the way to Congress.
Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is the nation’s leading 501C3 nonprofit that advocates on behalf of military women and female service members. As the CEO from 2019-2023, Barber quadrupled its funding and created partnerships with organizations like Procter & Gamble, T-Mobile and Navy Federal Credit Union.
“The organization focuses on post traumatic stress disorder – specifically for female veterans that have experienced sexual assault during their service,” Barber explained.
The nonprofit assists military women with receiving disability claims, with getting military sexual trauma (MST) victim status, getting therapy support care, and ensures military compensation for their experience.
“We worked alongside Congress to pass different legislation that not only supports victims but holds the criminals accountable for their crimes.”
Barber is a leading example of what it looks like to “support the troops” – a phrase she believes should be more than a slogan; it should be actionable. She suggests people can make an impact by donating money and time, or partnering with organizations like this that are doing the work.
In July of 2023, Barber released her first book “Pretty Ugly Lessons.” She now travels the country as a full time motivational speaker, inspiring others to overcome setbacks to relentlessly pursue their dreams because, “If not you, then who?”.
Here are tips Barber shares for pushing through adversity:
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The risk of failure brings discomfort. “Everything I do makes me uncomfortable. It’s a risk worth taking,” Barber says.
Don’t be afraid of rooms that lack faces that look like yours. Those spaces need diversity the most. For minorities who face this, Barber says, “What you’re feeling right now you don’t want anybody else to feel. Be the trailblazer and lay the groundwork so others don’t have the same struggle.”
Use S.M.A.R.T. goals. This method gives individual steps through charts and timelines to take action that help make your idea into reality. Her dad, a drill sergeant, constantly challenged her to dig deep, push forward, and stay the course.
Don’t fear failure but be terrified of regret. Live with the goal of never having to ask yourself what if. Leave no stone unturned. Chase every dream. Go after every opportunity. “I want to say I went after everything I wanted, and I didn’t allow fear to disable me.”Read comments