Name: Jasmyn Wilkins
Agency: ONE Management (NY), LA Models (LA), NEXT Models (Miami)
Statistics regarding how Black women are affected by biases in healthcare are more than facts and figures to model Jasmyn Wilkins. They’re a reminder of how she found her life’s purpose.
“So my mom actually was diagnosed with a liver disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC),” she told HelloBeautiful. “She was diagnosed about a year after my younger sister was born and the doctors at the time told her, you know, ‘don’t worry’ about this. It’s part of your life. This is not something you need to stress out about now.’ They didn’t really give her details about it.”
Shortly after being diagnosed, her mother witnessed a member of her medical care team give the opposite advice she had been given on a morning talk show, with the expert explaining how transplants could improve the quality of life for those suffering from PSC. Seeing her mother’s shock over this information being kept from her, and doing her own research regarding transplantation, Wilkins was inspired to spread the word about the merits of organ donation.
With her mother’s encouragement, the New York, LA, and Miami-based model began building a platform to raise awareness. “She was so supportive,” said Wilkins. “She’s always known that I wanted to get into the entertainment industry since I was a kid. I think it’s something that’s just been in my blood getting into entertainment. My dad’s in the NBA, he was always traveling.”
While Wilkins may have been well-traveled, she was not spoiled. When she expressed an interest in modeling, her father made her work for it.
“I was 17. My dad actually took me to an open call in Atlanta for Ford models,” she said. “He was one of my biggest supporters for sure. He took me to pretty much every casting ’cause at the time my mom was doing a lot of treatment for her liver.”
Some fathers might have tried to discourage their daughter from an untraditional career path, but Wilkins’ dad encouraged her.
“I think that coming from a family of entertainers, he was a little more understanding that like, you know, this can be a career that has a lot of ups and downs,” she said. Her father told her, “‘It can be a lot of pressure, but you have a good support system behind you and you really are serious about it.”
Wilkins felt that pressure at her very first casting. “It was a big cattle call. There were hundreds of girls there and I thought this is obviously a long shot, but they ended up offering me a contract. I’m 5’9 and I didn’t think that I would be able to [model] physically but there were so many people, and as a high schooler I wasn’t as confident,” she revealed. “That [casting call] gave me the confidence that I needed. Like I came out here and my very first time I get signed.”
That moment of triumph would lead to gigs for Sports Illustrated, Savage Fenty, Forever 21, DKNY, and Modcloth, but not right away. Wilkins didn’t want to abandon her education to join the industry.
“It didn’t really pan out immediately because I was still in school. I couldn’t do all the jobs I wanted to.” It was her college friends who encouraged her to take the step that would take her modeling career to the next level. “I was a sophomore and I was just at this point in my life where I wasn’t very happy at my major and I still had this inkling in the back of my mind to get into modeling and acting.”
She added, “It was really my roommates that went like, ‘Why don’t you try to get into a pageant? And that can be kind of a stepping stone to getting into modeling again.’ I decided to do it on a whim, raised the money for the Miss Georgia pageant, ended up winning, and went to Miss USA, got fourth runner up. And then from there, signed bigger contracts like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.”
While that may sound like another easy victory, Wilkins assured she earned her place in every single pageant.
“My dad, my brother, and my uncle all played in the NBA. My uncle was a Hall of Famer and it was cool, but also my family definitely instilled in us humility. And even though I was part of this family that was very well known, they were like, ‘You gotta work for everything you get.’ Don’t try to ride the wave of what your family name is.”
It’s for that reason Wilkins has always had a strong sense of self. Reflecting on her teen years, she shared, “I was 16 when I got my license and for me, I knew that I was going to be an organ donor just because of what my mom’s been through. And she had just had the transplant two years ago. For me, it was a no brainer, but I remember going to school and telling my friends about that. They were like, ‘I can’t believe you’re an organ donor!’ And kind of going back to what I was saying, you know, I think people just don’t really know all the details of order donation and what it entails. And I think they’re scared to do all the research.”
A 2006 survey published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that “African Americans reported greater mistrust in the equity of the donation system and were more favorable about providing tangible benefits to donor families than white respondents.” Wilkins has worked consistently to dispel myths about organ donation within the Black community.
“It’s unfortunate because African Americans are very much in need of organs. And if you look at the organ donation list, transplant list, there’s over a hundred thousand people on the list — 30% of them being African American. Yet we as a population donate the least amount of organs,” she said.
Beyond advocacy, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie wants to expand her career and explore acting and television hosting opportunities in the future. “I [always] wanted to be a very well-rounded person who also just happens to be a model.”
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