Gilyard will compete for the Miss Black USA 2012 in August. (Courtesy of Amina Gilyard)

Gilyard, Miss Black District of Columbia USA 2012, has always been a pageant enthusiast but “never made it a priority” to participate in any events until her move to the District in 2009. She did her research online and chose to focus on Miss Black USA “because of what they stood for - providing educational opportunities for women of color.”

The Queens, N.Y. native received the honor in August after applying to the pageant as an at-large delegate and, since the District doesn’t have a state pageant, underwent an interview process.

“It’s kind of like a job interview - that’s what it kind of felt like,” the 26-year-old Penn State University alum said of the near month-long event. She has since embarked on a whirlwind tour or being an spokeswoman for the pageant’s platform of the Hearth Truth Campaign and her own platform of bringing health education to medically underserved communities.

The reigning queen took a few minutes to talk with The Root DC about the first thing she had to learn after she became queen, being her own PR rep, and what could happen after her crowning days are over.

How have you embraced been being a role model?

I’ve been able to speak to a few groups of young girls just about self esteem and loving yourself and kind of sharing my story about how I wasn’t always this confident young woman. I didn’t always feel beautiful growing up. That in itself has been really a blessing and an honor to be able to share my story and to have other young girls look up to me.

I can say I never thought that was a position that I would be in. In the process I’ve learned so much from these teenage girls. I don’t remember being this intelligent and awesome when I was a teenager, but they just have so much talent. Just helping to harvest faith in themselves that they don’t see yet.

Are you a girly-girl?

I have two sides: I definitely have a tomboyish side because I’m into sports. I love football. I was on the flag football team in high school. I ran track all throughout elementary school and middle school; but I love getting dressed up. I was never the make-up person. After I got selected, I went to Macy’s and I just scoured the counters. I was like, “I’m going to have to be in the public eye - I need makeup tips!”

For an hour that evening, I just sat there and this guy just taught me how to do my makeup. I love looking, clothes, and bags - that was always my thing, but learning how to do my makeup was something I had to do. And even still, I only wear it on special occasions or when I know that I need to look extra nice.

Gilyard speaks to young women in Anacostia at the Wright Foundation Beautification Program Graduation Ceremony in December 2011. (Courtesy of Amina Gilyard)

Everyone who’s going to nationals is considered a delegate, so each delegate has the responsibility of promoting their own personal platform and also promoting the Miss Black USA national platform, which is the Hearth Truth Campaign, and also the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

My personal platform is bringing health education to medically underserved communities. Also, because of my education and background I have made it a part of my platform to provide my services as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) for free to those in need.

Needless to say, I have been receiving many calls from organizations wanting me to tailor health related workshops to their members.

How have you balanced your day job and the responsibilities of the crown?

In my position, I’m a patient navigator so I do have to be there to answer calls when people call with crises. It’s really a juggling act, and also just trying to stay grounded because honestly, trying to juggle everything is something that could probably drive the average person crazy.

Gilyard participating in “Bike for the Heart” in October 2011. (Courtesy of Amina Gilyard)

What will you do after your year is up?

I’m a busybody, so I like to stay busy and I just feel like I’m meeting so many cool people and making so many good connections right now, that even though I won’t have the title anymore, I’ll probably be just as busy. I’ve identified organizations that I definitely want to continue volunteering with even after I give up my title.

What has been one of your most interesting experiences?

I did this event [in October] where I went to HIV in DC-ity and a few local organizations collaborated to put on this event for youth, just to learn about AIDS. Walking into a room of teenagers, I didn’t know what I was going to expect.

The reaction was so good, and there were so many questions - people’s curiosity is off the charts, especially teenagers. I had little headshots and I was like “No one’s going to want me to sign my headshot. I’m not famous - no one wants this,” But they were all over it, and I just thought it was so cute, and so nice that I was just getting such a warm reception.

And that was one of the first times I [thought], “Okay, this is actually real. People do care that I have a crown on my head and they want to know what it’s about. It really let me know that I was in a position to affect change, so I couldn’t take it lightly. I was in a position where if I had something to say people might actually listen. So I had to make sure that what I said was important. It was kind of like my “Aha!” moment!

Follow Gilyard @MissBlackDC2012.

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