Jamaica Plain resident Alexandra Kahveci recently won the Mrs. Massachusetts United States 2020 contest. This year's contest had an interesting wrinkle -- due to the Coronavirus there were no in person contest, it was all Zoom meetings.
Kahveci answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about why she wanted to be Mrs. Massachusetts, competing in the future for Mrs. United States, and more.
Q: You were recently crowned Mrs. Massachusetts United States 2020. When did it happen and what was the process like?
Kahveci: I was crowned at the beginning of July after a two-week process. Because of COVID-19, an in-person competition couldn't happen. Instead, there was an application process where I outlined my platform championing federally mandated six-months paid maternity leave and discussed my resume. Then there were a series of zoom interviews and phone calls.
Q: What were the Zoom interviews like?
Kahveci: The interviews were surprisingly relaxed. Something I love about the United States system is that everyone wants everyone to succeed. Titleholders are called "Sister Queens" and there's an emphasis on sisterhood and mutual support. This was true in the interviews too. They asked me questions about who I was and what I would do as Mrs. Massachusetts to promote the system, but the interviewers also made suggestions for how I could leverage my potential title to further my platform and ways they could support me. The United States system is dedicated to serving local communities and the interviews made it clear to me that we were a good fit for each other.
Q: What made you want to win this pageant?
Kahveci: My son was born last July and the past year I have been focused on him. But now that he's a year old, it felt like time to get back into something policy-related. I love challenging myself and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I'm also called to serve my community through public policy. Being able to leverage a national stage to further paid maternity leave, connect with other like-minded, tenacious women, and work on myself is really exciting.
Q: The competition is platform based and your platform is to provide at least six months of federally mandated paid maternity leave in the US. Why is that so important to you?
Kahveci: I am always looking for ways to support women. Having my first child, though, made me realize that not having paid maternity leave in the US isn't just inconvenient, it's unjust. 25% of women in the US return to work within 10 days of giving birth in order to save their jobs, because the US is one of three countries in the world that doesn't have paid maternity leave. That 25% is predominately low-income and Black and Hispanic moms, which makes this not only a gender justice issue, but also an economic and racial justice issue. Paid maternity leave is linked to lower rates of chronic health conditions for the mother, lower childhood obesity and ADHD rates, lower turnover rates and costs related to new-hire training, and ultimately increased maternal work performance.
Massachusetts will enact 12 weeks paid family leave in January, which is a step in the right direction. But 8-12 weeks is the peak of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and going back to work at three months makes the recommended six-months of breastfeeding difficult. Only 22% of moms breastfeed through 6 months, largely because they go back to work so early. I'll be meeting with state elected officials soon to advocate for an additional 12 weeks in Massachusetts.
Most importantly, paid leave saves lives. The US ranks 33 out of the 36 OECD countries for infant mortality. A study at Stanford found that every week of additional paid maternity leave decreases infant mortality rates. Another study suggested that every month of paid leave could decrease mortality by more than 13%. That would save over 2,500 babies a year. We shouldn't be risking women and infants' health and lives just to squeeze a few more days of work out of women. The lives of women and babies are worth paid leave.
Q: When's the national competition and how are you preparing for it?
Kahveci: The national competition is October 11-15 in Las Vegas. I'm doing a lot of interview practice, research and writing for my platform, support for my sponsors through events and social media, and weightlifting (both for the competition and so I can lift my increasingly heavy son). Mrs. Massachusetts United States 2016, Jessica Plante, has been helping me out and has been so supportive. I'm also spending time getting to know the other contestants and learning about their platforms.
Q: You've worked in local Boston politics. Who have you worked for and what was your favorite thing about working for politicians?
Kahveci: I was Tito Jackson's director of policy and planning for several years and I still miss that job! Most recently I worked for Nika Elugardo's winning state representative campaign and I've worked with Sonia Chang-Diaz, John Barros, and Carlos Henriquez to name a few. My favorite thing is working for and with residents to create elegant solutions to life-altering issues. My focus is our community and I try to align myself with elected officials whose heart is also dedicated to constituents.
Q: What are you doing now professionally?
Kahveci: I'm working for my family architectural firm, Glenn Knowles & Associates. It has been a privilege to learn from and work with my dad. My focus is on strategic planning and design for our clients and building internal processes for firm growth. What has been most interesting for me is learning about how small businesses operate and how vital it is to have policy specifically tailored for small businesses. Working there has also offered me flexibility and time to be with my son during his first year. I am incredibly blessed to have my support system and I'm excited that other women will be afforded the same opportunities to spend time with their children when paid maternity leave becomes law.
Q: Anything else you'd like to share?
Kahveci: Part of what I'm doing in my year of service as Mrs. Massachusetts is highlighting local small businesses on my social media and through appearances. If anyone would like their business to be featured or would like me to attend an event, please contact me via instagram @mrs.massachusetts.