The Work. The Pageant. Me & The Stereotype…

img_9520I’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.

fullsizerender_2My 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.

img_9524August 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!

-Arekia
Miss Black MS USA, 2016

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