APPLY NOW TO PAGEANTS
• Applications to the following pageants are being accepted. Visit www.missblacktennesseeusa.org for more information.
• Miss Black Athens USA/Miss Black Athens Talented Teen USA
• Miss Black Chattanooga USA/Miss Black Chattanooga Talented Teen USA
• Miss Black Cleveland USA/Miss Black Cleveland Talented Teen USA
• Miss Black Knoxville USA/Miss Black Knoxville Talented Teen USA
Young girls may dream of being Miss America, but a former Miss Black Tennessee USA says that dream is outside the realm of possibility to many black girls. She's hoping to change that.
To celebrate Black History Month, Lorean Mays, 28, is educating young black girls that their dreams can become reality. The lessons begin with teaching the girls to value their heritage, despite what they may see on TV, she said.
"As a young girl, I loved to watch the Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, but I noticed there was not a lot of African-American representation," she said.
"The pageant systems then just didn't seem to appeal to the African-American community, and when you don't see yourself being represented on the big national and international stages, it becomes intimidating and disheartening."
Although that has started to change on a national level in recent years, black girls have little exposure to local competitions, Mays said. To change that, she is negotiating to bring the Miss Black Tennessee USA Pageant and its counterpart, Miss Black Tennessee Talented Teen USA Pageant, to Chattanooga for the first time in its 25-year history.
Her work with local girls is already under way.
"I've been doing presentations on etiquette for middle/high school girls. I cover everything from wardrobe, first impressions, walking, mannerisms, interview," she said. "I've also been working with girls and young women my age with their modeling and pageantry aspirations."
DeCaira Hubbard, 14, an eighth-grader at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, said the lessons go beyond outward appearances.
"At a young age, we don't think about how people think of us," she said. "That's why it's important that people have mentors to show them the proper styles and ways to be seen in a good way in the community."
Fellow eighth-grader Vinceia Crittenden, 14, said she loves the fashion and modeling aspects of pageants but also sees how they can offer young women a forum.
"You can learn things throughout your journey [through life], and the things you don't like, you can change. I want to represent the state as a true example of what a teenage black girl is like."
Mays said she hopes these girls follow their dreams. Many girls who get involved in pageantry are future community leaders who seek out competitions for scholarship opportunities as well as to find ways to give back.
"Pageantry and modeling are wonderful platforms to aid in helping you reach your ultimate goal," she said.
Whether or not you win a title, she said, the experience is rewarding.
Mays, who holds the titles of 2005-2006 Miss Black Tennessee USA title, 2008 Miss Tennessee National U.S. and 2009 Miss Tennessee Essence, said she took part in her first pageant in 2004.
"I entered the Miss Phi Beta Sigma pageant at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga while attending Cleveland State (Community College)," she said. "I had a lot of fun during the competition, planning and prepping."
Though she didn't win the title, she was named Miss Photogenic. The experience encouraged her to enter more competitions.
"At the time, I was only focusing on the systems that provided scholarships," she said. "I wanted to find a way to help my mother with my tuition, so pageants were a way I could use my talent and also at the same time obtain money for school."
Mays said she was shocked to learn that she was the first winner from Chattanooga when she took home the Miss Black Tennessee USA title a year later.
"There are so many talented, educated and beautiful African-American girls and young women in the city that we should be at the forefront when it comes to the modeling and pageantry industry," she said.
Winning that pageant not only propelled her modeling career forward, it changed her life.
"I know others will benefit just as I did," she said. "I am bringing opportunities to their front doors. I am making sure they receive information on upcoming auditions, competitions and casting calls for top agencies. The girls will have access to acting workshops, pageant coaches and image consultants to help them on their way. I feel that I have been blessed to see some of my dreams become a reality, so it is my duty to make sure that girls and other young women of my community have the same opportunity."
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...