Kaity Rodriguez ran for Miss New Jersey USA in 2008, and didn’t place in the top 15. But she was undeterred, and ran again the next year — when she took the crown. (COURTESY OF KAITY RODRIGUEZ)

For Montclair Local

Kaity Rodriguez doesn’t give up, no matter the situation.

The former Miss New Jersey pageant queen, Montclair-based therapist and author has spent her life overcoming obstacles, from negative comments about her appearance to mental health issues to uninterested editors.

In 2008, after graduating with a master’s in social work from New York University, Rodriguez competed for Miss New Jersey USA. To enter the pageant, contestants must pay a sponsorship fee, about $1,000 that year. Rodriguez went around her hometown of Clifton asking community businesses, friends and family to support her and her goal: to help girls feel confident in themselves.

In addition to the money raised, Rodriguez prepped for interviews on a range of topics, from current events to social issues to her own background. She purchased an interview suit and an evening gown and trained for the fitness portion of the competition. The big day finally arrived — and she didn’t win. She didn’t even place in the top 15.

She was undeterred.

“I really wanted to be able to be a role model and have a platform to connect with girls in my community, so if it took me all seven years of eligibility, I was going to keep doing it,” Rodriguez said. “And the next year it happened.”

She repeated all the steps that next year: raising money, buying outfits, practicing for interviews and working out. After six months of preparation, Rodriguez was crowned Miss New Jersey USA 2009.

That means she then qualified for the Miss USA pageant, featuring representatives from all 50 states. But now on a national stage, Rodriguez began to experience a level of criticism unlike before. Negative comments on her appearance and her ability to serve as Miss New Jersey USA filled the comment sections in social media posts about her crowning.

“I definitely didn’t expect that level of criticism, although I probably should have,” Rodriguez said. “But giving up wasn’t an option for me.”

She remained in the competition, focused on those who did support her as motivation. She ultimately didn’t win the Miss USA pageant, but she still held the title of Miss New Jersey USA and frequently made public appearances around the state. 

During this time, Rodriguez was going through a series of transitions in her life and feeling overwhelmed — a seven-year relationship ended while she balanced three jobs and questioned how best to build a career.

“All of those things sent me into a whirlwind of anxiety and panic attacks,” she said.

She began therapy, and says her life was transformed. She was able to understand and feel better about managing her own mental health, and was also inspired to help others. Although she had never considered being a therapist before, her experience seemed to open a new door.

“Through my own therapy, I was able to see the power of what the therapeutic process can look like,” she said. “I thought this is the direction that I want to go in.”

Rodriguez began to work in private practices and after meeting with her first client, she knew she was in the right place.

“I was walking in my purpose,” she said.

In 2016, Rodriguez had an idea. She was regularly seeing clients, working to help them through issues around confidence and insecurity, but she wanted to expand her reach. She decided to write a book, hoping to help women understand themselves and gain the tools to develop confidence to go after the things they want.

Her book is targeted at faith-based millennial women who, despite high aspirations, sometimes felt that they got in the way of their own success.

“When we don’t have that inner knowing of who we are and what our capability is, we settle,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to help to come against that.”

The writing process was easy for her, and she quickly produced 52 essays and associated writing prompts. The essays featured stories of trailblazing men and women in history, techniques for processing lived experiences and inspiration for approaching life with a new resolve. 

Excited for the book to be released and knowing that she wanted to work with a publisher, Rodriguez began to reach out to editors. She received rejection after rejection and began to wonder if the failures reflected on her own character.

“The project sat around for a while,” Rodriguez said. “I doubted my ability to carry through.”

But she kept returning to the book, determined to finish it. After about two and a half years of searching, she connected with Highlander Press and could feel a sense of relief — she had found a home for her book.

Published in March, “The Confidence Project Journal: 52 Journal Prompts to Uncover Personal Strength and Stop Self-Doubt” invites readers to focus on their own needs and creates a guide for women. Rodriguez’s site describes it as for women “who want to operate from a place of power and divine, God-given strength.”

The book can be purchased on Rodriguez’s website, on Amazon and from other book retailers. She also has a podcast, “The Building Black Podcast,” that can be found in most major podcast services.

Louis is a two-decade-plus New Jersey reporter and editor who believes a community news organization serves its audience best by embracing values of inclusion, equity and solutions-focused journalism....