From the view of a 20-something dream chaser.

Miss Virginia USA 2016: The Warm Up

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

They say being 1st runner up is so tough. Having been in this spot twice--once six years ago at the National American Miss national pageant and now at Miss Virginia USA--I must say if this is what "tough" feels like, life should be more of it. Honestly, I feel like I won! (Minus the crown and Mercedes and all.) A week and a half has come and gone and I'm still in awe. From my hair to my wardrobe, I took big risks and made bold moves this year. I can't say I did it without fears or reservations, but the outpouring of love and support from friends and pageant fans alike has been incredible. One mother reached out to say her daughter had found beauty in her own complexion and hair texture because of me. You know I lost it right then and there. Looking back, I'm certain that this year wasn't even about me, but about bringing diverse beauty to a culture that has defined beauty so narrowly for years and years.

I was the last contestant called into the Top 5--I guess you could say I was pretty excited.

So let me take a moment to note that the reason I am so humbled by this experience is...

I can take absolutely no credit for it. It is my belief that I was being led by the Holy Spirit. And in the end, He truly got the glory through me. You may be skeptical and/or wondering how I knew it was Him. Well, it certainly wasn't me! As you grow in your walk of faith, you'll begin to notice when thoughts are not your own. They just don't feel like yours. So when I began to consider natural hair for the pageant, I knew that wasn't me. You see, I didn't think the pageant world--and especially Virginia--was ready to reward such a look. And I wanted to win. I had already decided I was wearing extensions and a white gown because long hair wins and winners wear white. I was fully prepared to be disobedient, so I ignored those thoughts. But His voice kept nudging.

This made me go from ignoring it to fighting it. In my head I'd say, "Lord, I know you know what you're doing and all, but I'm trying to win, ok? So I don't know about this natural thing." For months this went on and I kept a record of it in my prayer journal. I would write "I feel like you want me to wear my hair natural, but I really don't want to. But ugh I guess Your will be done *literal eye roll*." And my prayer is always that He make things obvious to me, because sometimes I be sleep. Eventually, I began to consult people close to me. Most thought it was a horrible idea. They felt like I did--that it was risky and if I wanted to win, I should play it safe and go with what's been known to do well and win in the past. (Yeah! See, God? I told You!) Others thought it would be a fresh look and would help me stand out among a sea of contestants with long, mostly-straight hair. (But this person has been known to do XYZ, so we can't fully trust his/her judgment, Lord.)

So how did I end up on that big stage with my equally big hair? With the help of some unlikely advocates--strangers. I kept mulling over it and envisioning myself on stage--and winning--with natural hair. It wasn't too hard to do, considering I rarely straighten my hair these days. I noticed that the more comfortable I became with the idea of it, the more offended I got when pageant people said not to do it. (Yes, offended--it's amazing how God can change your heart!) It was then that I stopped seeking opinions and approval. And the funniest thing started happening--strangers began complimenting me on my hair--even on days I felt were bad hair days. I mean actual bad hair days, not like "omg-this-one-hair-is-out-of-place, such-a-bad-hair-day" days. And boy, would they (the kind strangers) carry on! It was shocking. I would think: "Hmm...is this You, God? You must be up to something." (He always is.)

I then began to think about my journey to self-love and the struggles I faced during my adolescent years. I had plans to share this very story as Miss Virginia USA. I also considered the media's influence and society's definition of beauty, from hair and skin to size and shape. And then it hit me that I could in no way encourage young girls to be their authentic selves if I wasn't willing to be myself on that stage. I felt like a counterfeit, that I wasn't practicing what I was preaching. What kind of role model does that make me? I thought. Not much of one at all, I replied to myself. So I knew what I had to do.

Moments before I left my heart in the interview room. (Photo by T. Phillips)
L to R: Caelynn Miller-Keyes (my roomie and eventual 3rd runner up!), Precious Layne and Jamie Hughes (Top 13) (Photo by T. Phillips)

With the lovely Hannah, Miss Albemarle and eventual 2nd runner up (Photo by T. Phillips)

Mere weeks before the pageant, when most contestants have long since set their final wardrobe and styling choices in stone, I made a major change in mine. And I can't even describe to you how glad I am that I did. It wasn't perfect hair by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, one friend told me I looked like The Lion King by the end, which I honestly took as a compliment, considering it's the greatest Disney movie ever. (I should also note that I have still yet to recover from Mufasa's death, may he rest in peace.) But as my natural sisters all know, you're only as good as your last twist/braid/bantu knot out. And some days, your last twist/braid/bantu knot out just isn't good. But it comes with the territory. Being natural isn't about seeking perfection. On the contrary, it means embracing yourself fully, flaws and all. That's when you're at your most perfect state.

I believe someone was counting on my obedience. Someone needed to hear what I had to say without even opening my mouth. This was the year Virginia was to make history with the final two being African Americans, and one being natural. And to think I almost didn't go through with it! Shaking my head.

My absolute favorite shot from the weekend. Much love to Desiree, the new Miss Virginia USA!

In the end, I neither wore the white gown nor the straight hair I had been so adamant about. In fact, I already had this red ball gown in my pageant wardrobe and had it re-fashioned by bemade. He also hooked me up with the earrings and gave my swimsuit life, too. While I may not have driven the crown and sash (and my mom) home in a Mercedes, I do believe I won. And I truly hope barriers continue to be broken down from this year forth. As the late great Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done."

I would be dishonest if I said I didn't feel just a tinge of pressure thinking about being next year's returning 1st runner up. How on earth do I top this year? What more do I have left in me to give? What if I've outdone even myself, like Michael Jackson's "Thriller"? Everyone knows even he himself couldn't top that. Questions that need answers. But not today. I let my light shine for His glory and sought to embody what it means to be a champion. Thus, my heart is full.

Let's call this year the warm up.

Miss Virginia USA 2016 Top 5


  1. You are so incredible and such an inspiration!!!

  2. Words cannot explain how proud I am of you as always. Your heart is always in everything that you do and I know you will never change. For this reason, I know you will always be blessed!

    Most of all, know that we are all behind you.



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