Video by Ashley Lopez
Miss Black University of Texas Scholarship Pageant celebrates the successes of black women
Story by Samantha Grasso
In the United States, beauty pageants are often judged as superficial. Between pitting women against each other, and grading them on their looks, modern pageants are also critiqued as outdated or “unfeminist.”
Mainstream television has helped promote this image, like when Miss Teen South Carolina delivered a rambling answer during the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant, and with the TV show “Toddlers in Tiaras” showcasing snippets of helicopter moms and tired children.
However, for the black community at the University of Texas at Austin, pageants allow black women to leave that superficiality at the door.
At this weekend’s 34th Annual Miss Black University of Texas Scholarship Pageant, eight women showcased their life ambitions and spoke out about issues that mattered the most to them, from creating an initiative to make Cockrell School of Engineering tours more frequent and accessible for young women , to creating on-campus workshops promoting college and higher education for the children of teen pregnancy.
The show opened with a synchronized dance number performed by all candidates. Following opening monologues on the women’s individual successes, passions and aspirations, each candidate performed a short talent routine. After a brief dinner intermission, the women spoke about their personal platform regarding social issues and enhancements they want to make to the UT community, and answered final questions.
At the end of the evening, three women were awarded scholarships for their talents and presentations: Khady Diack was awarded the $1,000 scholarship as Miss Black UT, Tori Robertson was awarded a $500 scholarship as Miss Krimson, and Jade Jackson was awarded a $250 scholarship as Miss Kreme.
Jackson, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, said the pageant wasn’t the kind of event she typically participates in. However, she said she learned from the other women during their time together, and found the pageant allowed them to express themselves and their true passions in a manner that society typically doesn’t allow them to.
“I really appreciate meeting this group of women, they’re very inspiring and motivating for me personally,” Jackson said. “From [Khady] I learned a lot about just believing in yourself and being confident.”
Hosted by UT Austin’s Iota Delta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., the Miss Black UT pageant originally evolved from the Miss Jamilla Pageant in 1983. While the pageant began and resolved in a matter of hours on Saturday night, the evening was a culmination of three months of fundraising, planning, and practice.
At the beginning of the process, the Kappas hosted informational meetings for women interested in applying for the pageant. Of the 20 interested applicants, Diack, Robertson, and Jackson were selected along with Tyneisha Westbrook, Belinda Busogi, BriShon Mitchell, Zubynatou Adamu, and Veronica Scott.
Over the next three months, the fraternity brothers assisted the candidates in everything from opening speeches, to set design, to the number they performed at the beginning of the show. Throughout the process, “pageant dads” helped with pageant logistics, while “pageant mom” Lauren Taylor, who is Miss Black UT 2015, helped the women with tips and tools for success.
On top of practicing for the pageant and forming their platforms, pageant candidates raised money through business sponsorships and personal GoFundMe pages to go toward funding the scholarship, pageant expenses, and toward making the winning platform possible.
Nyles Washington, a theatre and dance sophomore, is one of the 10 Kappa brothers who helped organize the event. Though he wasn’t a pageant dad this year, Washington’s theater and dance expertise allowed him to assist the candidates with executing their opening monologues.
Diack, a human development and family sciences senior who was awarded as Miss Black UT, said the pageant shows that UT Austin—while just having a black student population of four percent—has a sense of diversity, and shows that black women are valued in the United States.
“Black women in America are the least valued, least wanted group of people, so to put on this pageant where it’s like you have eight girls dressing up, everybody is like, “Oh my God, you’re so beautiful, you’re so valued, you’re so loved,” it just shows [to] all of the young African American girls growing up that you matter as a person. Your presence means something. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that it doesn’t,” Diack said. “ It really gave all of us the confidence to step out of our box and share some of our personal lives.”
Photos by Kristen Hubby
Infographics by Marysabel Cardozo