- Associated Press - Sunday, May 24, 2015

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - The Miss Big Beautiful and Bold pageant that Elaine Green Luke has run for the past four years got its start with a talk she said she had with God while she was living in Binghamton, N.Y.

Luke, who now lives in Winston-Salem, had just left her boyfriend, who had emotionally and physically abused her for nine years. It was 2002, and Luke was in her bathroom one day.

“Lord, I really don’t like myself,” she said she told God. “I don’t love myself.”

Luke promised God that if He helped her to start loving herself, she would help other women do the same. A few years later, she wrote a letter, which was difficult because she had dyslexia. She would take that letter into stores in Binghamton, asking for support for the pageant she had envisioned for plus-sized women like her, one that would celebrate women who other pageants never deemed beautiful enough to participate.

In 2010, Luke started Sista’s Uplifting Sista’s, the organization that has put on the Miss Big Beautiful and Bold pageant in Binghamton, N.Y.

Luke moved here in October. With the encouragement of her god-brother Byron Brown, a Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy, she decided to expand the pageant and invite women living in North Carolina, South Carolina and the Atlanta, Ga., area to be in the pageant. The pageant will be held Aug. 29 in Binghamton.

What started as an effort to uplift plus-sized women has turned into boosting the self-esteem of all women. Luke posts inspirational messages on her Facebook pages every day.

“I’m never stopping,” she said. “I will probably die doing this.”

‘Nobody will tear me down worse than me’

Luke grew up in Brooklyn. She was married but was widowed at 30. She now has 11 children, eight of whom are adopted, and 16 grandchildren. She has three biological children, including twin brother and sister. Another daughter died several weeks after she was born.

At a recent Mother’s Day event at the Carl Russell Recreation Center, she told the audience how the man she dated for nine years would slam her head into the wall and break her arm in a car door. She talked about how she gained weight because of the abuse.

“I shouldn’t be standing here talking to you,” she said.

Luke said she internalized much of the emotional abuse.

“Nobody will tear me down worse than me,” she said.

Antoinette Little, who lives in Winston-Salem and has become close friends with Luke, said they connected because they both overcame emotional and physical abuse. Luke said she has tried to kill herself twice. Little said she tried four times.

Little said she was in one relationship that was physically abusive and another one that was emotionally abusive.

She said the emotionally abusive relationship was sometimes worse because someone’s words can get into your head.

Luke agreed.

“That mental stuff.it’ll stick with you,” she said.

That’s why the pageant is important, Luke said.

“If I touch one sister with my story, I’m doing what I’m called to do,” she said.

Ben Piggott, the supervisor of the Carl Russell Recreation Center, said Brown told him about Luke. Piggott said Luke has a message that women need to hear. He said she can motivate women.

Brown said he was surprised when he heard that Luke was doing the pageant. He said Luke didn’t share much with him about the abuse she went through.

Luke said she would often hide her bruises with Cover Girl makeup. Brown said that as a Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy, he has responded to domestic-violence calls. When he gets there and arrests the man, the woman will jump on him.

“It’s almost Catch-22. You go to help her and she resents you,” he said.

Still standing

Luke breaks out in a huge smile while she goes through pictures and news broadcasts about her pageant. She goes through some of the various themes of her pageants, including “Shine Bright Like a Diamond,” which comes from a Rihanna song.

The theme of this year’s pageant is “We’ve Been Through Hell but We’ll Have Heaven on Earth.”

Luke said she has her challenges - she’s had a heart attack and has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

But she also graduated from SUNY Broome Community College in 2013. She plans to continue her education at Forsyth Technical Community College.

Her son, Andrew Green, wrote a rap song, “Mommy I Love You,” based on his mother’s physical abuse. Luke said she never realized that her son knew at the time about the abuse.

Andrew Green said he has seen a definite change in his mother. She’s much happier, he said.

“It’s amazing to see how people turn around,” he said. “One minute you can be under the bus and the next you’re controlling it.”

Brown said he’s not that shocked at what Luke has accomplished. She has always been the kind of person who can make something out of a little and make it look like a lot, he said.

“She’s uplifting others but she’s uplifting herself as well,” Brown said.

Luke told the audience at the Russell center that despite all the challenges she has been through, she’s still standing. And everything she has been through has brought her to this point, she said.

“It’s a struggle for me and it’s hard but I will not quit,” Luke said.


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com

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