My first experience with pageantry was in college when I ran for my dorm’s pageant as Miss Howard-Herald Hall during my freshman year. From the audition process to my final walk across the stage during coronation, being second attendant to Miss Howard-Herald Hall was far more work than I expected and being a pageant queen required more than just clear skin, a small waist and a winning smile. During the entire process of being behind-the-scenes, I had developed a newfound respect for the art of pageantry. Though I was only doing it on the scale of a college campus residence hall, I realized that pageant queens are role models that carry themselves with poise, grace and passion for the community they’re serving.
Though our initial perceptions of pageantry are centered around Eurocentric ideologies, our definitions of beauty and acceptance have successfully evolved since the creation of Miss Black USA over 30 years ago. HelloBeautiful had the chance to catch up with the reigning Miss Black USA TeKema Balentine, who is the first to hold the title from the LGBTQ community and from Wisconsin. We spoke with her about her passion to bring awareness to heart disease, how her perception of beauty has transformed, and leaving her legacy.
“As a child my perception of beauty was based on the stereotypical and European standards of beauty – long hair, size zero and white. While women of all races are beautiful, these archaic standards of beauty are not inclusive of the beauty and strength of the Black women, which is more than a pretty face,” the reigning queen shared with HelloBeautiful.
Balentine thinks back to when Roger Bobb, former supervising producer of Tyler Perry films, commented on the relevance of Miss Black USA with, “there’s something special about the Black woman, the way she speaks, walks, moves, it’s hard to articulate.” TeKema saw something within herself as she reminisced back to that exact quote and noticed that her views on beauty have outgrown society’s standards of beauty. She continues, “as an adult, I’ve learned to become the beholder of my beauty and realized that beauty is really whatever you want it to be. It’s not just physical, it’s spiritual, and it’s unique. You see it every day at Miss Black USA in all her fifty shades of brown, curves, natural hair and intelligence.”
When she first discovered there were pageant opportunities for Black and brown women who looked like her, TeKema’s interests began to burn brighter and brighter. She quotes actress Ruby Dee to HelloBeautiful, “the kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, and dignity.”
“This is the type of beauty Miss Black USA stands for,” TeKema said, “and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
According to their official website, The Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant was established in 1986 and is the first and oldest scholarship pageant for women of color. Though the women who competed last year were judged based on evening gowns, an on-stage interview, talent and personal fitness, TeKema brought the beauty, brains and quick wit that resulted in her title win.
“Becoming a part of Miss Black USA was a chance to challenge myself, but also focus on my education. Miss Black USA has awarded over $500,000 in scholarships to outstanding women of color to date. My main focus was to win a scholarship to pursue my education with the ultimate goal of earning a PhD in Nursing,” she shares about her initial goal as a contestant. During her time as Miss Black USA, she spearheaded the Heart Truth Campaign, which raises awareness of the risk factors that contribute to heart disease, the leading cause of death of women in the U.S.
“Black women disproportionately experience heart disease, yet, it can be prevented. We know if we reach women at a much younger age, we can prevent the disease later,” the advocate informs HelloBeautiful. “My role as a celebrity advocate is to share the risk factors and promote living a heart healthy lifestyle through movement, good nutrition and less stress. I personally promote a healthy lifestyle by coaching track each year, I garden, I exercise, and I do my best to avoid heavily processed foods.”
TeKema continues to praise the Miss Black USA sisterhood and how some of her pageant sisters are some of the most accomplished Black women that this country has ever seen. She sights two former queens, actress and physician Kalilah Allen-Harris, M.D. and actress and philanthropist Osas Ighodaro, as some of her primary inspirations.
As she tells HelloBeautiful that 80% of contestants are in graduate or professional school, and two of last year’s contestants were practicing attorneys, she shakes her head at what should be the media’s main focus. As a model, singer and actress – a true triple threat – TeKema joins the ranks of ambassadors, lawyers, doctors, entertainment producers and more.
“We don’t hear about this or see this in mainstream media. Black women are lit. These beautiful, intelligent Black women are smashing stereotypes and proof we can have and do it all. I appreciate seeing the unique traits, qualities, and beauty from queen to queen,” she said as she continues to boast about her pageant sisters breaking barriers across all fields from entertainment to philanthropy.
Though everything looks all pretty and glamorous on-stage, TeKema doesn’t remember the mental preparation as a walk in the park. “The first mental lesson was to understand that I’m not competing against anyone but myself. It also required discipline, the same type of discipline required in sports,” says the former high school track star and current high school track coach. “Mental preparedness is important in any activity and the skills learned in sports are transferable to pageantry.”
For young Black girls who struggle with their own definitions of beauty and positive self-image, TeKema wants every HelloBeautiful reader to know that there is no singular definition of beauty. She affirms, “There is no better representation of beauty than a girl who is unafraid to be herself. God uniquely created your DNA. He made all of your features with the fondest thoughts of only you in mind. That alone is enough to walk like you own the world.” And that’s on period.