Ms. California Petite is a nonprofit pageant system focused on mentoring, volunteerism and community service involvement, personal and professional development, and female empowerment through leadership. Photo BY LUIS CHAVEZ

Ms. California Petite pageant winner Jennifer Sousa raises awareness for autism

By Nicole Borgenicht

Marina del Rey resident Jennifer Sousa is a loving mother, and as Ms. California Petite 2022, she is as beautiful inside and out with an important humanitarian purpose.

Aside from Sousa’s full-time job as the longtime music manager of the Backstreet Boys, accepting more responsibility is part of her ebullient nature. Sousa’s kids attend Coeur d’Alene Avenue School in Venice and board member Sousa is vice president of events, raising money and delighting audiences virtually. While the business of entertainment is her niche, Sousa’s interest in pageants has been ever present.

“I have such distinct memories of hanging with my mom and watching the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants together,” Sousa said. “We would root for our favorites, especially Miss Portugal, since that is where my family immigrated from. Having a platform and being able to work on bringing awareness to something you are passionate about was key. I became Ms. California Petite in May 2021.”

Ms. California Petite is a nonprofit pageant system focused on mentoring, volunteerism and community service involvement, personal and professional development, and female empowerment through leadership. As the State Preliminary for the National Competition, USA Petite, Ms. California Petite was founded by state director, Dania Denise, a previous national titleholder. The competition is open to all California residents who are 5-foot6 and less in bare feet.

The pageant was held virtually because of the pandemic to include all interviews, photos and a platform mission. Next August in Milwaukee, Sousa will have the opportunity to compete in a live show.

“My platform is autism awareness in support of my daughter Layla,” Sousa said. “She was diagnosed four years ago, and I have been learning along the way.”

Sousa has an understanding the “ebb and flow of autism and variety of therapies involved from speech to behavioral and occupational therapy.” At the same time, Sousa feels that being crowned Ms. California Petite is showing her kids they can accomplish anything too. Additionally, the pageant is important to Sousa for several reasons.

“It gives me the ability to have a platform and to use my social media and voice to bring awareness to autism and its effect on families, siblings, friendships, etc.,” Sousa said.

“This pageant really gives me a purpose outside of work and kids and it feels good to have some other purpose. I plan on using the next year to highlight businesses and programs throughout California that support autism awareness.”

Many people have misconceptions about pageants by considering them either a purely physical attribute show or a springboard for contestants. However, they focus on a combination of physical, intellectual, practical and humanitarian voices and visions. Sousa said many people believe pageants are for folks who want to be models or entertainers.

“That’s the furthest thing from the truth for me and for I think a lot of people that get involved in pageants,” Sousa said. “I’m a 40-year-old mom and businesswoman ticking something off her bucket list and using it in a way to do good and help bring awareness to something that has personally touched my life.”

Never self-aggrandizing, Sousa shared that mothers everywhere inspire her by example.

“Seriously, moms really do so much – juggle their work and home lives, children’s activities, help their elderly parents, be the shoulder to cry on for their friends,” Sousa said. “A mom’s job is never done, and all my mom friends inspire me beyond belief.”

Always setting the standard as high as possible, Sousa is a multitasking mother, businesswoman and winner of Ms. California Petite, who emotes an upbeat California lifestyle.

“What is there not to love about California?” Sousa said.

“I was born and raised here and love the diversity in people to the diversity in geography – you can be surfing on Venice Beach one morning, then snowboarding in Big Bear by the evening.

“California is truly a magical place, and we are so lucky to live here.”

Follow Sousa’s journey on Instagram @beingmartousa.