- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Miss America 2003 Erika Harold told more than 800 D.C. teenagers yesterday to decide what they value and to become someone who “changes the world.”

“Decide that no matter what anyone else says, you are not going to cave in and you are not going to let anyone rob you of the destiny you have as a king or a queen,” she told students at McFarland Middle School and Shaw Junior High School in Northwest.

Miss Harold relinquished her crown last month to Miss America 2004, Erica Dunlap of Florida. She is now on a speaking tour for an abstinence curriculum program called “Game Plan.” The program is used in the D.C. school system’s 16 public schools.

Miss Harold grew up as a child of mixed race in Urbana, Ill., which she said subjected her to “frightening” racial and sexual harassment. The situation was so bad that her mother, part black and part Cherokee Indian, and her white father, of Greek-German-English ancestry, had to send Miss Harold to another school.

“It was at this point in my life I realized people are going to say things that are negative, people are going to do things to try to influence how I live my life,” she said.

“I have to decide for myself what I value, and I have to decide that I’m going to stand up for that regardless. That’s why I made a commitment to be abstinent from drugs, sex and alcohol.”

Miss Harold drew cheers and jeers with a story about a popular athlete at her high school whom many girls wanted to date.

The athlete, she said, had three rules for going out with him: Don’t tell anyone about the relationship, don’t talk to him at school, and duck down in the seat of his car when driving around to avoid being spotted.

The female students cheered when Miss Harold told them to avoid such men, and they jeered when she told them about a girl who dated the jock for six months, followed his rules and even slept with him to assure herself a date with him to the prom.

However, the boy told the girl that she would not be his prom date because she was not the kind of woman he would be proud of before his parents, Miss Harold said.

“She allowed herself to be disrespected,” Miss Harold said.

She said one of her life’s biggest disappointments was being unkind to a boy in grade school who was fatally struck by a car.

“I never called him a name, but I never once went out of my way to be kind,” she said.

“One of my life’s biggest regrets is that I would never have the opportunity to go back and say I was sorry to him,” Miss Harold said.

Erica Earle, 11, a McFarland sixth-grader, called Miss Harold a “very independent” woman.

Tiffany Thornton, 13, an eighth-grader, said Miss Harold “really cares about the children of the world.”

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