- - Thursday, August 27, 2015

In order to explain my Miss USA experience, I must begin with my journey to becoming Miss Maryland USA 2015. This will allow a full grasp on the pageant experience from the eyes of a beginner such as myself. The struggles and challenges that I faced during my preparation for my pageants, and the blessings that came about as a result of my persistence and hard work. My pageant experiences closely mirror one another, the only difference being the women with whom I competed.

It was May 2014. I had just graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and in the midst of an exhausting job search, I decided after much deliberation, to compete in my very first pageant. I was always more interested in modeling and had done a lot of freelance work in the D.C. metropolitan area, New York, and Los Angeles, and wanted ultimately to work on pursuing my dreams of becoming the next supermodel-mogul like Tyra Banks, Kimora Lee Simmons and Cindy Crawford — women who had single-handedly transformed their talents into brands, and brands into empires. I was inspired to seek different avenues to make my dreams come true as those women did. I hoped that my modeling and runway experience would give me an advantage when I competed in the pageant.

In the past, I looked at pageant girls and thought that it was an easy beauty contest that girls competed in to receive validation from others, or simply for the prizes that came along with winning. What intrigued me to compete was the fact that if I won, the title I would open many doors and allow me to enter into a professional network that would also propel my mission of humanitarianism and youth empowerment.

A few weeks went by and it was finally time to begin preparing for the pageant. I received a welcome/informational packet that was about 70 pages long, which answered almost any question I could ever have regarding what I was getting myself into. Right away, my initial thoughts on pageantry quickly diminished. In order to compete, contestants needed to have several required materials, including (but not limited to): a gown, swimsuit, heels, wardrobe for pageant weekend, a professional headshot, $1,000 for pageant production and money for other registration fees. I was in over my head — I did not have the money, or any of those things for that matter. I had no clue where to go or who to turn to for help. But with much prayer and consulting with friends with pageant experience, I learned how to go about getting the things I needed.

Pageant girls are hustlers! I learned how to solicit businesses and individuals alike to get the things that I needed. I had to pitch myself and my mission to them, explain why they should help me and how it would benefit them. Sponsorship, whether monetary or via services, is the way that pageant girls survived in this industry. I learned different ways to market myself publicly and through social media to garner support. This journey, I realized, had become an all out campaign to the crown.

In addition to the business aspects of pageantry preparation, I now had to worry about practicing my walk and my interview/interpersonal skills. I would meet up with my friend and mentor (whose only pageant experience stemmed from competing and winning her college pageants) twice a week for three weeks leading up to the pageant. She would sometimes bring in her friends with and without pageant experience, including a former Miss D.C. to help me out, serving as unbiased mock judges to help me get a feel of what pageant weekend would be like. Fortunately, I had enough runway experience where I felt comfortable picking up the simple walking patterns that I would have to execute with style and grace, across the stage. What was more challenging was understanding how to precisely and concisely answer questions in the interview portion of the competition. The interview would be held during pageant weekend, and would be the place where contestants would be able to meet, converse with and make a lasting impression on the judges. This would be the place where judges would essentially pick their favorites by scoring them highly, and would help determine which girls would be selected as the Top 15, come finale night.

What I was most nervous about though, was making it to the Top 5 Final Questions. Envisioning myself at that moment excited me, but scared me so much at the same time. This was the final moment on stage after being selected as the best of the best, after going through swimsuit and evening gown walks once more, in order to prove yourself worthy as a queen with style and grace. Now, it was time to prove ourselves intellectually. Judges wanted to see who could answer a hard-hitting question with the pressure of thousands of eyes upon them; who could provide the most substantial answers with poise, charm, and articulacy. I was taught a formula to answering those questions: first, attempt to answer the question, add your personal feelings on the matter and always end your statement with a “Thank You.” After much practice, I had to figure out how I would impress the judges by ultimately just being myself unapologetically and wowing them with my intellect.

October came around quickly and it was finally time to put everything that I learned to good use. The pageant went off without a hitch and I was blessed to have been crowned Miss Maryland USA 2015. I was the newcomer that no one expected to actually win, but my performance was such that I could not be denied! It was the best day of my life. The very next day I was briefed on my role and responsibilities as Miss Maryland USA, and everything that I would need to get done in preparation for Miss USA — my second pageant ever.

Right away I got to work on several initiatives, including one that I am most proud of, called the “No Excuses Youth Empowerment Program.” I traveled to several high schools, and spoke to girls about actively pursuing their dreams despite any circumstantial setbacks. I am blessed to say that I have had many girls write to me telling me how I have positively impacted them to continue to work hard, and hold themselves accountable to achieve their goals. And that is what all of this was for; everything that I went through was for them — for that moment. The title I was now preparing myself to fight for would allow me to have a platform to be able to make a difference in my community and hopefully bring about the change on a national level.

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