HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) - In just over a month, one our very own Coulee Region residents will represent the state of Wisconsin in the Miss America pageant.
Holmen native Raeanna Johnson won the crown back in June and set a Miss Wisconsin record by being the only woman to hold the title twice (as runner-up in the 2011 competition, she took over for Laura Kaeppeler in 2012 when Kaeppeler won the Miss America crown).
But Raeanna's story is about much more than making history - it's about making a difference for families who've gone through a loss like hers.
Exactly nine years ago this week, time stopped moving for Raeanna's family and for her 18-year-old brother Tyler, who took his own life after coming down from a methamphetamine high in 2005.
"We hadn't heard about meth until the toxicology report came back after he had passed away," Raeanna remembers. "But we look back at pictures, and we see the picture of Tyler from his graduation, happy, bright kid who had the world in front of him... and less than three months later, we look at a picture of him and he had lost weight, he had dark circles under his eyes."
"We can blame the drug on that."
Through her title, Raeanna is continuing Tyler's story. Her entire pageant platform revolves around her brother's experience and helping other families navigate those tough conversations on substance abuse.
"I decided this program could really give me a voice and help me go out and talk about my brother, and hopefully prevent and create awareness about substance abuse and the trauma it can cause families," she said.
But talking about her brother doesn't just help other families with the reality of substance abuse - it also helps Raeanna regain something she lost with her brother's death.
"In all honesty, it was my way of becoming closer to my brother," she says. "Along with grieving the loss of a big brother, I was grieving the loss of what could have been. We didn't get along very well, and everyone told us we would get along so much better when we were older. Now we don't have that opportunity, so this is my way of getting to know my brother a little better through his experiences and being able to share that with people."
Raeanna has launched a website, tylerslegacy.org, to offer information about substance abuse and share her story and others.
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