At 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 in Grenada High School, junior public relations major Imani Harris competed in the 2018 Miss Black Mississippi Scholarship Pageant. In Grenada, Mississippi, Harris traded her former title of Miss Black Forrest County for Miss Black Mississippi USA.
According to the pageant’s website, the mission of the Miss Black Mississippi Scholarship Pageant is to “provide educational opportunities to outstanding young women of color” while also encouraging the wholistic development of young women spiritually, mentally and physically.
Having quit the highly-competitive and stressful pageant world years prior due to poor performance, Harris felt inspired to try again upon learning about the Miss Black Mississippi Scholarship Pageant during her freshman year at USM.
Harris said, “I didn’t know much about it, but I knew that it was created for black women by black women. I knew that I would have the chance to be exactly who I wanted to be. I wouldn’t have to change the way I looked, talked, or what I believe about the world to compete in this system.”
During the spring semester of her sophomore year, Harris applied for Miss Black Forrest County online and later interviewed for the title. Once she earned the position, Harris began preparing for the state pageant’s following categories: Personal Interview, Personal Fitness, Talent, Evening Gown and Question and Answer.
With the help of her pageant coach Lenzie Blake, Harris said she exercised often, “ate really unhealthy for the most part,” practiced her singing for the talent portion and stayed up to date with current events and policies “religiously” with an emphasis on news in the black community.
Expecting for the on-stage question to be the most difficult category, Harris surprised herself with how well she was able to answer the question about self- esteem. “ Harris said, “I rocked it! I was confident and knew I had done well.”
Harris’ confidence during that category could be accredited to her platform “Project Jamila,” which advocates for building self-esteem, promoting the importance of education and being aware of one’s community and culture. Admittedly having struggled with low self-esteem in her adolescent years in an attempt to conform to the beauty standards of today, Harris’ platform has been inspirational to not only herself and young African-American girls, but also her friends as well.
Senior philosophy major Maya Rex traveled three hours the day of the pageant to watch Harris compete against five other African-American women from Montgomery County, North Hinds County, Leflore County, Sunflower County and Marion County for the title.
Rex said, “Seeing black women come together was so powerful. Even though it was a competition, they were all still empowering each other. It was the true meaning of community and sisterhood. It broke the stereotypes of “catty women.” Pageants that celebrate nontraditional standards of beauty.