Fifteen years ago, LaShan Dixon’s friends challenged her to enter a pageant. The experience, and others that followed, helped her hone in on skills she was lacking.
And now, Dixon is reaping the rewards of her former college dare, walking in a path with a purpose, while supporting others.
Along the way, she discovered that pageants are about more than crowns, pizazz and prizes.
Multiple pageant titles gifted Dixon prize money that helped her pay for college. But it also showed her the pageant world is much broader than a beauty contest.
“I realized how much impact these young girls and women impact the community,” said Dixon, who spends her days (and some nights) as Rutherford County’s public health director. She’s also a Middle Tennessee State University alumna.
“(People) don’t see the long hours and hard work and number of community service hours.”
Her biggest feat so far occurred last month. Dixon was crowned Mrs. United States of America.
Through pageantry, she found a love for serving others. Eventually Dixon, her husband, Lamar, and their daughter, Londyn, created HOPE, which stands for “Helping Other People Excel.”
The organization is a platform that honors the memory of the couple’s siblings, who are both deceased. Since its inception six years ago, HOPE has given more than $7,000 in scholarships to Middle Tennessee high school students.
“We wanted to do something to keep their memories alive, to keep their spirits going, because they were both always so loving,” Dixon said.
Prize money from her Mrs. United States of America will also be used to fund more scholarships through HOPE.
“We wanted to do something to help improve the quality of life of current generations,” Dixon said. “I had a lot of people in my life that helped me overcome obstacles and barriers as a young girl.
“I just want to build a legacy.”
In addition to competing in pageants, Dixon has coordinated and participated in numerous fashion shows and exclusive events. She is the CEO of LaShan Dixon, LLC, through which she empowers individuals to feel confident on and off the runway.
“I’m just very grateful to be able to serve. Now I look forward to all the amazing things we as a family are able to do to help young girls and women,” Dixon said, “so they can see their true value.”
MTSU to county health department
Dixon began her career at the Rutherford County Health Department in the Fall of 2008, serving as a TENNderCare Outreach Representative. It marked an opportunity to advocate for underserved residents and communities. Three years later, she was named a public health educator.
By 2017, Dixon was promoted to assistant public health director.
She served as interim director after Dana Garrett’s death and in March 2021, as a global pandemic threatened billions, Dixon was named director of the Rutherford County Health Department.
“Dixon never missed a beat after Dana’s passing,” county mayor Bill Ketron said at the time. “She continued her position’s responsibilities as well as Dana’s. Her leadership and professionalism during such a uniquely challenging time, for her coworkers and our citizens, has been remarkable, to say the least.”
‘Pushed me to be the woman I am today’
In April, Walking with Purpose will again partner with Murfreesboro City Schools for the Petals and Pearls mother-daughter program.
“My mother is one of the women who inspired me to excel, even in the face of adversity,” Dixon said. “She had barriers and obstacles. But she wanted a way for her children to attend college.”
Another mentor in Dixon’s life was Garrett, the previous public health director who died suddenly in 2020. Dixon was appointed health director shortly after Garrett’s death. Dixon also received guidance and encouragement from the late Linda Gilbert, a former Murfreesboro City Schools director.
Said Dixon: “They have pushed me to be the woman I am today.”
This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: Health department director wins pageant title, strives to give back