Photo credit: Nathan Simmons of Once in a Lifetime Photography (Houston)
Empower Magazine recently had the opportunity to speak with the multi-talented Jade Simmons to discuss her phenomenal journey. She has been called a “Musical Force of Nature, named on Essence Magazine’s ‘Style & Substance Award’ list alongside First Lady Michelle Obama and Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, made Ebony magazine’s ‘Top 30 Leader Under 30’ list, and was called on to provide various classical musical selections for a soon-to-be released Netflix documentary on the life of legendary Nina Simone, to name a few of her achievements.
The multi-faceted classical pianist, motivational speaker, author, and first runner up in the 2000 Miss America Pageant, pauses to give Empower Magazine readers a peek back at her early journey as she celebrates the release of her new book, “Audacious Prayers for World Changers: Live and Pray Out Loud.”
A lot has taken place in your life since you were crowned Miss Chicago and Miss Illinois in 1999 and named first runner-up at the Miss America 2000 pageant. Tell us first what led to compete in pageants and how that experience impacted your life.
It was an unexpected twist. Growing up I was definitely into athletics, academics and music and I stumbled upon pageants because of a friend of mine. I was there to support her and the director of the pageant heard me practicing piano backstage and said, ‘You’ve got to compete in this next year.’ I told her pageants weren’t my thing because I was so focused on music and applying for scholarships for college. And she said, ‘Well this is a scholarship pageant, you can win scholarship money.’ I changed my tune quickly and asked, “Well, where do I sign up?!”
That was the Miss Junior Miss Pageant, an academic pageant for high school juniors. I won the local title of Charleston’s Junior Miss and went on to be 1st runner-up at the state level in South Carolina. I was discovered there by a man named Gary Loadholt who would encourage me to compete in the Miss America pageant. Today, he is still one of my greatest advisors.The Miss America System is also about scholarship money and you get the wonderful opportunity to speak on an issue of importance to you. While in school at Northwestern University, I was blessed to become Miss Chicago, Miss Illinois and ultimately 1st runner-up at Miss America. For my platform issue, I chose a very controversial topic at the time of youth suicide prevention. The Columbine tragedy had happened the spring before I went to Miss America so youth violence, mental illness and suicide were hot button issues. Even as a young person with a zest for life, it really bothered me that other young people were considering ending their lives for any reason. It devastated me to think of anyone in that much emotional pain. As a Christian, I also felt deeply that we all have these God-given purposes, so to me, if you end your life you are literally denying the rest of the world of these amazing outcomes, transformations and solutions you’re supposed to bring forth. I think that was the start of my obsession with purpose and passion and helping others figure out exactly why each of us are here. So even Audacious Prayers is based on the very strong belief that we are here for very big reasons given to us by an audacious God. I wanted to give us the big words to match the big destinies in front of us.
What inspired you to write “Audacious Prayers for World Changers”
I had no idea I would be writing a book on prayers. All I ever wanted to do is be a classical concert pianist and play your standard composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff. I wrote Audacious Prayers two years ago and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I was just sitting on it. I remember praying, “God I know you gave me this, but I am not sure what or when it is for.”
Deep down, I have always felt that I have been in ministry, but more so in stealth mode! And now I am in a season, where because of what I said to God, ‘Look, I like what I am doing, but I have a feeling you have something else for me, and as married as I am to this childhood dream of being a concert pianist, I want you to replace it with your God-built destiny, because it is more important that I do what you created me to do versus just what I want to do.’ And as soon as I said that, certain doors that I never imagined, or never wanted to open, like ministry, are starting to open.
So I think the best way to describe the book is it is a balance of uplifting our own big dreams and validating the fact that we do have big dreams and then turning those dreams over to the Maker of those dreams. It’s also about staying humble and centered as He starts to call those magnificent things into existence.
You are a multi-talented pianist, author, lecturer, and columnist – how did you achieve success in such varied areas and what characteristics would you attribute to your ability to have success in multiple arenas.
My younger sister, Isis Smalls, is a graduate of the University of Chicago where she was a record-breaking volley player. She’s currently a much-beloved middle school teacher and the recent Miss Houston 2014. The way that our parents raised us is to really believe we can do anything and, almost to a fault, we really do believe it! We go after just about anything and I think that that is what you are seeing in these prayers. If we have a God that is that extraordinary and that unlimited and He tells us that we are made in His image, we too must be big and unlimited. So the prayers are written in an audacious mode. A wonderful definition of audacious is recklessly bold. It is time for us to be reckless in our faith and to believe in a way that is scary to us and to everyone else. To really believe that way we must also speak in a way that shows to the world that we trust an unlimited God.
I was always that child who did multiple things and my parents encouraged it, they considered it being well-rounded. And I ran into a lot of authority figures later who said that I was doing too many things or that I needed to focus on one thing. What I teach other artists who are multi-talented today is that it is an amazing gift to be blessed with multiple talents, but you are squandering them if you allow yourself to be unfocused or uncommitted on the projects you are pursuing. So my parents used to always allow me to can anything or any activity I wanted but they required I participate at my highest level of excellence. If there was anything I was not able to execute in excellence, I had to give that activity up.
What would you say to inspire others to discover and follow their passions.
What I would say to people is, don’t just trust your gut on what you are supposed to be doing. Cry out to God and ask him why He made you exactly the way you are in the first place and he will reveal it – he will start to show you patterns in your life, how you’ve always been effective. Most people do things that are second nature to them because it is their passion and they don’t even think about it because it comes so easy to them. They don’t realize how powerful this skill, talent or gift really is. I’ve run into people at fast food windows and they take my order and I hear this voice of gold. When I get up to the window I say “Tell me you also work in radio, tell me you are thinking about TV,” and it hasn’t even crossed their minds, because they take their own voices for granted. People have to rely on God’s blueprint for them, what he told us we are designed to do, versus what other people advise us to do.
When people advise us, they are well meaning. But often they advise us from a place of their own circumstances, their own fear, and so a lot of times, even though they mean well, they implore us based on their fears. And I say in one of the Audacious Prayers, “never be implored by someone else’s fear”. However something worked out for them has no bearing on how it will work out for you. It is always easier said than done, but you have to believe that God wouldn’t give you those desires or passions if he didn’t have a plan for you to pursue them in some way.
The key then of course is asking him, “Father, how do you want me to pursue this passion, this opportunity?” The hardest part of that is asking God to replace your vision with His. That is the hard one, but I tell you what, when you do that and when you pray that way, He starts showing you, that what He has for you is always bigger than what you have in mind for yourself.
What led you to create audio versions of your prayers?
I wasn’t planning on creating an audio version of the prayers. I have a friend, Melissa J. Nixon, who is actually my accountability partner in a high-level business mastermind I’m a part of. We are both entrepreneurs and talk every week about what’s going on with our new projects to keep each other inspired. She is another big thinker, speaker and founder of the Courageous Life Academy. She literally teaches women how to be more courageous in life, faith and business. So when she knew the book was coming, she said, ‘Jade, you are going to do an audio version, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘No, I hadn’t even thought of it.’ She said, ‘Jade, you are a speaker, the way that you speak, the way that you say these prayers is going to be different than how some people might read it in their heads. You need to make an audio version.’ She was so right. I made a few audio clips and shared them on social media. People responded so strongly to the audio clips it was absolute confirmation. It’s a reminder of how we need outside perspective and that sometimes people see greatness in us that we haven’t thought to explore. I thank God she made the suggestion. Of course, then she came back and said, ‘And you know that you need to have this translated in a bunch of different languages, right? So I will be doing that as well soon! I’m thrilled to hear what people are telling me they are experiencing from listening to these prayers. It’s penetrating hearts and revolutionizing mindsets and I’m humbled to get to play this part in so many people’s lives. Absolutely humbled.
Audio-clip samples of prayers from Simmon’s new book: