by Shantella Sherman
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
“Any time you are considered a subculture, it’s important to have your own reward system. If you try to assimilate, you will always be looking for validation from the majority group. That can do damage to your psyche,” Karen Arrington, founder of Miss Black USA Pageant, said. “Miss Black USA contestants celebrate their own unique traits and differences…don’t have to conform to European standards. They define their own standards of beauty, which come in various shades and sizes.”
This year’s Miss Black USA Pageant, themed, “Redefining Black Women,” was held Aug. 10 at the University of the District of Columbia’s Arts Theatre and the finalists affirmed Arrington’s assessment. The newly crowned Miss Black USA 2014 – Jasmine Mone’ Alexander, 25, who entered the pageant as Miss Black Colorado USA – epitomizes beauty, brains, and character far removed from stereotyped images of African-American women.
Alexander, who holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in human services/executive leadership from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said, “One of the first endeavors I will undertake as Miss Black USA 2014 will be promoting the Heart Truth Campaign – which teaches women about heart disease and how to prevent it. One in four women dies from heart disease so I really want to push healthy eating and healthy lifestyles among young girls. Additionally, I want to bring more attention to the efforts of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There are so many missing children and those who are victims of molestation and trafficking. These issues are dear to the Miss Black USA organization, so I will be working to bring awareness to them.”
Amanda McCoy, Miss Black USA 2013, and Miss Black USA Junior Teen 2014 both shared Alexander’s sentiments and her desire to empower and uplift other young women. “My reign as Miss Black USA 2013 opened so many doors for me and created opportunities I never thought possible. I was so excited this past year to be able to minister to so many young girls and just because the reign ends doesn’t mean that you give up the crown – technically you do, but you continue to carry it in your heart, so I will continue that work now that I have completed my reign,” McCoy said.
For Kennedy Byrd, 13, a first-time pageant contestant, her desire to help others as well as a love for the stage – especially dancing – led her to take a chance at the crown. Following her victory, Byrd, a North Carolina native, said she was eager to roll up her sleeves and use her title to help others. “It feels great to have been crowned Miss Black USA Junior. I am ready to get going and jump into a number of community service projects. Specifically, I want to work with orphanages or kids who need help building their self-esteem,” Byrd said.
But how important are character and building role models in a fast-paced society controlled by mass media images? According to Arrington, it is critical. “The images that are portrayed in mainstream society are not the women that I see every day who are resilient, intelligent, educated and not fighting over mean, but fighting for success. These are the images that our little girls need to see. A healthy woman is fit not just in body, but in mind and spirit. We do not have a swimsuit competition. Instead, the teens wear athletic or other attire to show how they stay fit, whether it’s cheerleading, martial arts, dance, or some other form of expression.” Arrington said. “Miss Black USA is a global role model.”
The Miss Black USA Pageant and Scholarship Foundation holds annual contests including Miss Black USA, Miss Black USA Talented Teens, and Miss Black USA Junior Teens, to promote the total girl or woman – mind, body and spirit. Their mission includes providing educational opportunities to outstanding young women of color through scholarships and community service.