“It’s something that people don’t talk about often. I want to break the stigma.” Sydney Ford is talking about death, and the grief that follows for those left behind.
Ford will take the stage in June at the Miss South Carolina pageant. Some might be surprised to hear a “beauty queen” talk about loss and sadness, but the current Miss Spartanburg (and former Miss Columbia) serves as proof that stereotypes about the contestants in the scholarship competition are simply untrue. She is, without question, beautiful, but she is much more than that.
Ford is a 2016 summa cum laude graduate of the University of South Carolina, earning her degree in just three years. She is currently finishing her first year Emory University School of Law, one of the top 25 law schools in the country. While still at USC, she volunteered at Pawmetto Lifeline and helped raise more than $1.3 million for Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital as a member of the USC Dance Marathon team. She now finds time in the stressful life of a first year law student to volunteer with Kate’s Club. Spend five minutes with this young woman, and it will be clear she is far, far more than a pretty face.
Ford’s commitment to helping people and especially children deal with grief began with personal experience. “I lost my dad when I was 10 years old,” she explained. “He died in the middle of the night, completely unexpected. Through the grieving process, I was 10 years old, honestly I had no idea what to expect.” She has made it her mission as a Miss South Carolina contestant to make sure no child, no family, has to endure a similar tragedy without help, using the platform
Children see Ford’s sash and crown and think of her as a princess. That perception helps her build a rapport and opens doors for her when she speaks to kids who have lost loved ones. “It not only gives me a chance to talk about it, but also gives me a chance to get them to tell their stories,” she explained.
Telling those stories is a thing many people, of any age, never do. “You hate bringing it up to someone because you don’t want to upset or offend them,” Ford said. She will speak to anyone about her own loss, because part of her goal is to let people know it is acceptable to talk about grief. “That’s the thing I’ve learned most. It’s something everyone goes through. Even if it’s not the same situation, you are not alone.”
Living in Atlanta this school year as an Emory student, Ford became involved with Kate’s Club, a nonprofit which empowers children facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. It has inspired her to bring something similar to South Carolina, and she is working to do just that. She has learned firsthand that talking to kids about grief leads to helping the whole family.
“It’s a way to get to the parents. Kids will tell everything,” Ford said.When given the opportunity, she speaks to the parents too, letting them know they are also allowed to struggle with grief, and to talk about it. “They don’t have to be super strong.”
Ford is always willing to talk to anyone dealing with grief, and those interested can contact her through Facebook. She also continues to work to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and donations to the cause are always welcome.
April 1 marked 12 years since Ford’s father died. He is anything but forgotten. The pain of losing him has never gone away. Talking about his death is still not an easy thing, but his daughter does it, because helping other people is more important to her than doing what is easy. “It gets the word out. It gets people the help they need, and that’s all I want to do.”
Featured image: Ford (in red) with other Kate’s Club volunteers at a recent ice skating event for the kids