Kim Telesford, an American University biology major who hopes to enter medical school, was chosen "Ms. Anacostia' last week in a pageant staged by the Anacostia Educational Foundation (AEF) to promote the image of Southeast Washington.
She and 10 other young Southeast women were judged on their intelligence, community involvement, talent and appearance.Although the pageant at the Friendship Learning Center benefited the contestants, the program's directors hoped the public's view of the community had improved, too.
"There are so many negative things over here (in Southeast Washington) being highlighted - the poverty, the rapes, the poor services - that it was time we started letting people in other parts of the city know that those of us who live "across the river" are human, too," said Bertha Graves, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8-D and president of AEF.
"We want Ms. Anacostia to represent more than just a pretty face. There are enough Miss Universes in the world already," said Graves, a native Washingtonian. "In order for people to make it nowadays, they've got to have something in their heads.
"So, through my ANC work, I talked with some of the young people I know about what they'd like to do to help change our section of the city's image, and we came up with this.
Fareeda Shakir, the AEF vice president, echoed that sentiment.
"There's a lot of reclamation going on all around this city," said Shakir. "People cruise by neighborhoods and say to themselves, 'That sure is a nice (house) shell. I wonder what's inside?'
"Well, it's the same way with people. You've got to look inside them to see their real beauty. You can't condemn a whole section of the city or a whole group of people just because of the statistics the riffraff pile up."
The pageant, which overran its scheduled three-hour performance, was not without a snafu.
Nellie Pharr, 17, a 1978 graduate of Wilson High School who will attend Howard University this year, was originally named "Ms. Anacostia" for 1978. But after many of the spectators had left, thinking the show was over, a re-check of the judge's totals showed Pharr tied with Kim Telesford with 382 overall points.
The contestants had been graded from zero to 10 on a variety of criteria, including physical beauty, speech, composure, talent and creativity.
Pharr had piled up points with her dramatic presentation of Nikki Giovanni's poem, "Ego Tripping," which received the loudest applause of the night. Dressed in a black African gown and a gold and black East African corn row wig, Pharr alternately hushed and excited the crowd with her performance.
But after a second balloting for the title ended in another tie, Telesford was awarded the "Ms. Anacostia" trophy and a $1,000 scholarship to be paid directly to the school of her choice.
Pharr was composed and gracious when the decision that pushed her back into a tie for first runner-up with Brenda Faye Hill was announced. She hugged Telesford warmly, shed no tears and said sincerely, "I'm so glad for you, Kim."
Pharr will share a $500 scholarship prize with Hill, who performed a piano recital of a Sergei Rachmaninoff composition in the talent contest.
Paul Berry, the ebullient WJLA-TV newsman, hosted the pageant, which featured appearances by two musical groups, Tapestry and the Joyce McKeithan Gospel Singers.
A major highlight of the affair was the comedy routine of Greg Cooper, a 24-year-old Eastern High School graduate who broke up the audience of more than 1,000 with impressions of Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell, Sammy Davis Jr., Al Green, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and a 1950s-style disc jockey.
Cooper exhibited a fine singing voice and captured many of the nuances of the personalities he imitated.
During the talent portion of the pageant, the contestants performed a variety of routines. There were modern dance improvisations, singing, recitals and poetry readings, including "To Be Free", an original poem by Laquetta Battle.
Gonzetta Morris, 20, a speech pathology major at George Washington University, performed magic tricks.
Morris, who tied with Battle for second runner-up, ended her deadpan circus magician's performance with a balloon trick. She stuck a foot-long pin in the balloon, but it didn't burst.
Other prizewinners were: "Miss Congeniality," Battle; "Miss Personality," Robin Powell; fourth runner-up, Beverly Ann Wells; third runners-up, Powell and Michele Johnson in a tie.
Other contestants were: Milene McCutcheon, a 17-year-old student at Ballou High who dramatized Langston Hughes's "let America Be America Again"; Starkoda Plummer, an Ohio Wesleyan student who sang "Summertime" from "Porgy And Bess" and Ivory Bryant, a student at the Washington School for Secretaries who sang a Spinners hit, "I Don't Want To Lose You."
As her talent performance, the new Ms. Anacostia recited "Dark Phrases" from Ntozake Shange's popular musical "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide: Or, When The Rainbow Is Enuf."
"I was shocked," said Telesford of the decision that elevated her to the title.
"Nellie had done so well, and I thought I might have lost some points on creativity. But we all became good friends and I'm positive we all share that same message - that people in Washington should work together as a team.
"This can be a very nice place, but too many of us are standing on the corners and not using our energies in the right ways," Telesford said. "Hopefully, we can all come together as one people."