I’ve been competing in pageants for as long as I can remember. When I found out I could receive scholarship money for college for competing AND get paid for coaching others and consulting, I made a lifestyle out of it all.
From the beginning there was always purpose.
Pageantry gave me the platform to advocate and raise awareness to a broader audience. In a sense, it was my first experience with organizing. My first platform was “Creativity for a Cure,” a project that my sister queen, Capri Abdo (National American Miss Mississippi, 2009) allowed me to work on with her. The platform aimed to help children with illnesses through artistic ways. We were able to educate hundreds of Mississippians on childhood cancer and other illnesses through this platform. With the experience Capri afforded me in working with her platform, I developed several of my own that I would implement during my pageant journey:
- Project REAL, Reaching for Excellence in Academics and Leadership –as Miss Black MS COED, 2014
- Political Education and Youth Development –Miss Metro Jackson, 2015
- The Undoing –Miss Black Mississippi USA, 2016
*all of these platforms focus on youth development, leadership enrichment, and creating substantial change within the community and school systems by utilizing youth voice as a core instrument to create impactful societal change in Mississippi. Most of my early pageant platforms (’06-’10) were motivated by raising awareness and/or adopting a cause –i.e, breast cancer awareness, domestic violence awareness, and self-esteem and character building charm schools.
My most recent title has given me the most fulfillments. As a recent college graduate and a current youth organizer at MSSC, I have come into my own a lot in terms of my identities and the ideologies and theories that I subscribe to. My most recent platform is the most authentic platform I’ve ever had because of my experiences in undergrad and being exposed to the work of MSSC.
The Undoing is a series of honest conversations by young African Americans to purposely build social, cultural, economic and political power. The goals are:
- To unlearn racial stereotypes
- To unpack identity politics
- To undo heteropatriarchy
The platform aims to co-create cohesive cultural consciousness & understand solidarity, collectively engage in political education for empowerment, and build economic structures that are just, regenerative and restorative. I believe that these conversations will guarantee leadership development and establish a black young people led economic machine that nourishes and sustains innovative, creative and new economic engines to build and sustain communities.
August 3-7, I travelled to Washington, D.C. to compete alongside the nation’s most beautiful successful and intelligent black women for a chance at becoming the 2016 Miss Black USA. I placed among the top 15 and proudly represented my state the best I knew how. (I was extremely proud of my placing, by the way… it was my first pageant placement in two years and my first national pageant in two years!). At the end of it all I walked away with far more than a network full of awesome connections, but rather a sense of resilience. Miss Black USA Inc. is more than a pageant, it’s a movement! Throughout the pageant week, the process built so much character in me and gave me grace to stand firmly and confidently in my sexuality, my values, and my blackness. For the first time, I felt affirmed by black women! I felt empowered by them through our storytelling sessions, our sisterhood. That, for me, was all I had ever needed pageantry to be. I never knew how beautifully intersected our lives were [as black women], how much of the world we all felt like we were carrying and how at that moment in time, the only thing that mattered was that we would be each other’s support system at the end of crowning. And it is so! I didn’t feel less than because of how I navigate my queerness; each woman was so accepting and warm. The Miss Black USA pageant does everything it says it does for women of African descent: empowers the whole woman: body, mind, and soul.
I am forever in debt to the Miss Black USA system and our founder/CEO, Karen Arrington for her vision and this platform that affirms that black girls are magical and that black girls rock. It was proven upon my crowning as Miss Black MS USA, 2016 and still proven even after another girl took home the overall title of Miss Black USA, 2016!
Miss Black MS USA, 2016
National Gathering has honestly been one of the most valuable experiences in my life. Not only was I able to meet tons of new people with similar aspirations, but I was able to share and exchange ideas with them to vastly broaden my perspective. Gratefully feeling validated and heard, I was able to share my experiences and relate to those around me. Those who attended the Gathering were of varied experience, age, and identities, allowing an array of resources for everyone there. This was especially helpful for me, as I was able to receive validation from my peers as well as advice from those who have taken powerful leadership roles and know how to get change started.
Personally, I’ve been fairly intimidated by the idea of challenging authority figures — out of fear of being seen as a joke to have dared spoken up. However, after hearing what other people my age (and younger!) have done in their own communities, that barrier has been severed. My own anxieties do not override the needs of my peers in any shape or form. I desire justice for the people who have so graciously surrounded me, and I’ve been given a good push in the right direction. I’ve made many valuable friends and connections that I’ll never forget, and I look forward to taking the next steps in making change happen around us.
– Rhis H.
That’s me on the left! (with the blue hair lol)
Earlier this year we opened up 2 stipend positions for young organizers in Mississippi. Our two Youth Organizers, or YOs, have been hard at work helping table for events and do outreach. They’ve also been learning more about what it means to do work with MSSC. We are now proud to announce that we have 2 more stipend positions open.
You’ll be joining our current YOs and QYAB members in our efforts for racial justice, queer resistance, and gender justice work. You’ll have the opportunity to work with other organizations here at home in Mississippi, as well as across the Southeast and across the country.
Apply right here!
This Monday we finally made it back from the windy city, and I am exhausted. Part of the MSSC crew spent nearly a week in Chicago hanging out, scheming, laughing, crying, raging and having a little fun. Anna, Kuuda, Key and myself were in Chicago for the 2016 Creating Change conference. Besides Anna this was all of our first time at Creating Change, for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Creating Change is the largest LGBT conference in the world (I think). From what I’ve heard there were over three thousand LGBT folks crammed in the Hilton Chicago for over 4 days. For the most part I stuck to the tracks that involved LGBT youth, undocuqueer, and Latinx work. As an organization the MSSC has recognized the need to not only do more intentional outreach to queer Latinx communities, but also to get more involved with the efforts of organizations like Not 1 More to fight the deportations of our undocumented siblings. With this being said Creating Change was a very interesting conference to attend. From workshops that helped me understand how to better do outreach with Latinx communities to plenaries about the state of feminism there was no shortage of amazing spaces where queer people could come up with amazing ideas and plans for our future. There were also no shortage of spaces that proved to be damaging and problematic for our people. I may not have been in one of those spaces but there was plenty of conversations about it. From trans women taking over workshops that were deemed retraumatizing to full blown protests against pinkwashing there was a lot going on at Creating Change. Honestly I’m proud of my queer and trans siblings for the way they stood up for their convictions and the things that are right. Creating Change was definitely an experience I won’t forget and a decent way to start this new year. We’ll see what the rest of the year has in store.