Miss Sedgwick County doesn’t let past adversity define her


Courtesy of Courtney Price-Dukes

Courtney Price-Dukes is crowned Miss Sedgwick County

Courtney Price-Dukes defeated the odds. 

Price-Dukes landed a full-ride scholarship to WSU and now wears the Miss Sedgwick County crown. A recent WSU graduate, she will compete in the Miss Kansas scholarship competition in June.

But it hasn’t always been easy for Price-Dukes. 

“My biological parents were both drug addicts, so I was immediately adopted by my mother at birth,” Price-Dukes said. “Automatically, born to two drug addicts, adversity. Going into the foster care system, that’s adversity. Single mother, adversity.”

Growing up, Price-Dukes dealt with plenty of hardships, including financial instability. Some days she had to walk to the store to get food because her family didn’t have a car or use the fireplace as light when her house was without power.

“On the outside, we looked fine,” Price-Dukes said. “We lived in this big house in the suburbs, but inside it was a whole different story. I think as a kid I didn’t really process that.”

Price-Dukes also faced abuse in the household. When she went to the police about it, they did not believe her. 

“My life was constant adversity to where I should not be in the position I am today,” Price-Dukes said. 

Even though Price-Dukes had these challenges in her past, she strives to make sure they do not define her.

“I don’t want to let my story be my complete identity,” she said. 

“I’m going to get those good grades. I’m going to, you know, be in extracurricular activities. I’m going to go to college, you know, I’m going to make something of myself and I’m going to use it to not only help myself but help other people.”

And that’s exactly what Price-Dukes did.

In November 2020, Price-Dukes gave a TED talk at Newman University called “The reality of the foster care system.” The speech is on the TED talk Youtube channel and currently has roughly 17,000 views. 

As a communications major, Price-Dukes said she always dreamed of giving a TED talk. Price-Dukes had to fill out an application and submit an audition video with a synopsis of what she was going to talk about. 

“I think [they chose me] it’s because it was something so different than what other people talk about nowadays, and I can personally relate,” Price-Dukes said. 

Price-Dukes said her goal was to shed light on the realities of the system instead of comparing it to non-realistic examples, like the movie “Annie.”

Just recently, Price-Dukes has used her platform to speak out about the death of Cedric Lofton, a 17-year-old boy who died two days after becoming unresponsive while being restrained face down at a Wichita Juvenile center. Price-Dukes spoke at a Sedgwick County Commission meeting where she called on the commission to act.

“Why that was so powerful to me and hit home was because I saw myself in that case,” Price-Dukes said. “I am not only a foster child, I am an African American woman and Cedric Lofton was Black. Some people say that doesn’t correlate, but it does.

She said she feels the need to use her position to speak out on issues.

“The job is not always light and fluffy, wearing a crown and waving and talking to children. Sometimes it’s talking to those commissioners and legislatures about the real issues.”

During her time at WSU, Price-Dukes competed in the Miss Black and Gold scholarship competition, which is what introduced her to the pageant world. 

While Price-Dukes did not win that pageant, it did provide her with important connections. 

WSU alum and former SGA president Joseph Shepard was the choreographer for the Miss Black and Gold pageant. Now, he serves as Price-Dukes’ director for the Miss Kansas competition. 

When Shepard was looking for women to compete, he wanted to find women who were authentic. That’s when he thought of Price-Dukes.

“She is diverse, she is someone who is boisterous, not only about her beliefs, but her struggles … When I wanted to recruit young women to compete, that’s what I was looking for,” he said. 

Shepard said Price-Dukes’ story is an example that young people in similar situations can look up to.

“She has a powerful story, a story that I feel so many other boys and girls need to hear about growing up in the foster care system … that there is a life and opportunities after that,” Shepard said. 

“Courtney is a walking testimony that your preset conduction doesn’t define your final conclusion.”

Price-Dukes said having Shepard as a director has been a great experience because they look at each other as equals. 

“We have this friendship [and] I think that’s super important,” Price-Dukes said. “You don’t want to feel like someone’s talking down to you and making you feel inferior.”