After a year of public appearances, crown-wearing and and pageant prep, 30 women from around the United States and the Virgin Islands were in D.C. last week to compete for the title of Miss Black USA, now in its 25th year.
Contestants spent five days answering questions, performing in the talent competition, and modeling evening gowns and fitness wear, but only one finished the week with a crown. Selena Watkins, Miss Black New York,won the competition.
Over the past year, the Yonkers native and fitness instructor held dance and fitness workshops focused on promoting health and wellness, in addition to advancing the competition’s platform, The Heart Truth , a national campaign that helps women fight and prevent heart disease.
“I’m going to hopefully get people to understand that health isn’t about being a certain size. It’s about understanding your body and being healthy inside and out,” she said.
Watkins graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University in 2009 with a fine arts degree. She was chosen as Miss Rutgers Caribbean in 2005, representing her parents’ island Antigua. She now teaches dance classes at gyms across Westchester County, N.Y., and mentors students in Yonkers.
As she readies herself to continue a new year of public service, we talked with the 24-year-old about staying grounded in the public eye and her future after the crown comes off.
How did you physically prepare for the competition?
I made sure I was eating right. I didn’t eat a lot of starch. Usually I just
exercise with the [dance] classes I teach, but I took the time out to focus on my own fitness. I did a lot of Bikram yoga. A whole lot of Bikram yoga. I loved it. I just love being healthy. Fitness is so much fun for me, and I know for a lot of people it isn’t, and I want people to understand that. You don’t have to go to the gym if you don’t love the gym, but if you love yoga, if you love biking, if you love dancing... just turn on the music and start sweating!
The competition is nearly a week long. How did you maintain your stamina?
I prayed a lot. It helped because I didn’t have a complete appetite like I normally do. I was drinking a lot of water since I knew I wasn’t that hungry, so I figured it was more of a mental thing. Your body’s gonna do what you tell it to do, so I just prayed a lot to stay consistent throughout the whole weekend.
When you arrived for the competition and saw the other contestants, did you feel any anticipation?
There was a lot of anticipation because we had been familiar with each other for the past few months, but seeing each other’s faces was just amazing. We built a sisterhood, which was amazing. It wasn’t about competition, it was about sharing stories and sharing each other’s struggles. We wear our heads so high that you wouldn’t know what we’re going through, and it just feels good to know we had sisters across the nation. Despite the fact that it was a competition, we’re now a family.
The most fun part was hanging out with my roommate, Miss Black Georgia. She was so funny. She was a trip and we just connected on such a deeper level.
Will you do any more competitions after your reign?
No. I’ve never been a traditional pageant girl, but when I researched Miss Black USA and the organization, I knew that it was more than a pageant. It’s a movement, and it’s about inspiring young girls and celebrating women of color. I don’t think I’ll do another pageant. I’ll just focus on my year of service and really changing things the way I see it in my head.
Do you feel like your personality takes a 180-degree turn when you put on the crown?
No, not really. I kind of feel like myself. I feel like you have to be yourself the whole time. ...I laugh, and you just have to know that that’s how you should be all the time. It shouldn’t be a complete 180 from who you are as a person.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself during this process?
I learned my tenacity, to just keep a strong head and keep going. Sometimes you can get discouraged and when you look at other girls, you say “Wow, she’s so amazing.” And it’s okay to know that someone else is amazing.That doesn’t discredit anything about yourself. There can be more than one amazing girl in a room at a time, and you just have to still be sure of yourself at all times.
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