Gray Named 2020 Miss Jackson Hospitality

April 22, 2020

Jackson-native Jennifer Gray has been named the 2020 Miss Jackson Hospitality, joining other 18-24-year-old young women from across the state to serve as their community’s “goodwill ambassador for tourism.”

Gray is a 2014 graduate of Murrah High School and a 2018 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Mississippi College.

In May of this year, Gray earned her Master’s in education in curriculum and instruction at MC and has continued her post-graduate education at William Carey University – all while working as a 7th-grade mathematics teacher at Germantown Middle School in the Madison County School District.

Visit Jackson spoke with Gray – who also served as Jackson’s 2017 Miss Hospitality – about her experiences and what she hopes to impart on her reign as Miss Hospitality this year.

Why did you want to become Jackson’s Miss Hospitality again?

My passion in life is to serve. I love to educate and advocate, which is why I became a teacher. In the position as Miss Jackson Hospitality, I have a unique opportunity, not only show others all of the great experiences that Jackson has to offer, but also to advocate and bring awareness to education. I want to present my students with the best lessons that an educator could offer, so I enrolled in school at William Carey to pursue my Specialist.

Why does that matter? The Miss Hospitality competition offers over $100,000 in scholarships to participants. This is a great opportunity to advocate, educate and receive assistance in paying for my education simultaneously.

Talk to us about the experience of being chosen to represent Jackson in 2017.

At the time, I was still an undergrad and was undereducated about the great city that I was born and raised in. In preparing for the Miss Mississippi Hospitality Pageant that year, I learned so much about the beautiful history of this city. Although I danced on the stage of the historic downtown auditorium many times, I did not know who Thalia Mara Hall was named for and the significance of the honor given to her. I also had the opportunity to reign as Miss Jackson during the opening of the Two Mississippi Museums. What an honor it was to be a witness of history being made in my city!

You placed in the pageant that year, correct?

Yes. Although I competed against nearly two-dozen other young ladies, I was selected as 4th runner up. I also won the Speech Competition for having 1 of the 3 top Mississippi speeches. As an ambassador, your goal is to promote tourism, so the objective of the speech is to attract tourists to the state.

Where were you in life at that time?

I was preparing for what we called in the Education Department at Mississippi College, “Pro-Block.” Pro-block is an intense series of courses that you take before student teaching. It was the best experience that I could have ever had. I was also dual-enrolled in a class at Jackson State University. I was taking Geometry to complete requirements for an endorsement in mathematics. I am glad I can say that I attended “Thee” Jackson State University, even if it were only for 15 weeks.

What has life been like for you in recent years?

I teach mathematics and coach the Germantown High School Dance Team, which is exciting since I was on the dance team in high school myself. Between teaching academics at the middle school, dance at the high school, and continuing my education, I do not have much time to do anything else. I love my MAVS!

What do you hope you can bring to the role this year?

Love! I wish I had more to say, but I honestly adore my city. There are so many unique experiences that one can have here. From museums to food, to our education to music, it is all so amazing. You will never hear another band like the Jackson State University “Sonic Boom of the South.” Just WOW! Anytime someone comes to visit, I can always give so many food options: The Iron Horse Grill, Mayflower Café, Manship Wood Fired Kitchen and the list goes on. My love for my city runs deep and I want to express that to those who have never had a chance to experience it the way I have.

Do you have a cause you represent in your role as Miss Hospitality?

My passion in life is to be an advocate for those whose voices cannot be heard. I am a person who has been living with a chronic illness – diabetes -and I am actually considered disabled.

People look at me and try to tell me that there is nothing wrong with me. I am writing this on my 45th day of quarantine because I am considered a part of the ‘vulnerable population.’ I do not go past my mailbox because I cannot take the risk of being a Type 1 Diabetic amid infection. This is how I am living as an adult, but what about those children who are disabled? How will they be growing up in the world?

I have a soft spot for those with Diabetes, particularly type 1, and with Sickle Cell Disease. They need people who have the platform to be the voice, and I am willing to offer mine to show them that a disability does not define who you are.

What do you, philosophically speaking, think the role of Miss Hospitality, brings to Jackson?

Miss Hospitality highlights our most significant asset, which is hospitality. You can’t go to just any state smiling at strangers, holding the door, and small talk them. This state is truly unique, and you have to recognize Jackson as its heartbeat. Miss Hospitality provides an ambassador for an artistic, dynamic city that is deeply rooted in its rich history.

Established in 1949 under Governor Fielding Wright and the Mississippi Legislature, the Mississippi Miss Hospitality Competition has been established for more than 70 years. Throughout this time, the program has championed the state’s tourism and economic development sectors while supporting Mississippi’s best and brightest young women through a robust scholarship program.

Designed for ladies ages 18 to 24, the program continues the tradition of beauty and grace while celebrating intelligent and sincere qualities of the modern woman. Local contestants serve a full year as their community’s spokesperson, promoting visitation and development in their hometowns. Contestants leave the program with lifelong friendships, communication and interview skills, confidence in public.