There's a new voice for the disabled population of New Jersey.

Born with spina bifida 40 years ago, Union Beach resident Millie Gonzalez is the latest Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey. She earned the crown at a competition in Egg Harbor Township.

"I believe in living life boldly. I believe in being fearless and unapologetic," Gonzalez told New Jersey 101.5 during an interview over the phone.

As the 2019 winner, and leading up to the national competition in July, Gonzalez will use her title to share the platform on which she competed: "Survival of the Fiercest: Taking Control of Your Life Through Self Care."

"I've learned I can't do anything I love if I'm dead," she said. "We, the people with disabilities of New Jersey and outside of New Jersey, deserve to be fierce. And I really want to encourage people to live life fiercely and really take care of ourselves so that we can continue to live the lives we want to be living."

Millie Gonzalez is an emcee for the annual New Jersey Disability Pride Parade and Celebration. Photo credit: Alliance Center for Independence
Millie Gonzalez is an emcee for the annual New Jersey Disability Pride Parade and Celebration. (Photo credit: Alliance Center for Independence)

Gonzalez defeated three competitors to grab the title in early November. Contestants participated in two rounds of interviews and performed a two-minute platform speech. The Ms. Wheelchair competition is not a pageant: It focuses on advocacy and recognizes the free spirit and accomplishments of female wheelchair users.

Gonzalez's disability has not slowed her down much. She's worked at Kean University for more than 15 years and is a dancer with the ZCO Dance Project. Gonzalez serves on boards devoted to serving the disabled population and she also coordinates the ReelAbilities film festival.

Gonzalez said she aims to improve emergency preparedness and response for people with disabilities. She also wants to increase public awareness surrounding disability culture and etiquette.

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