The year is 1986 and Karen Arrington has seen her dream fulfilled. The Washington, D.C. native worked tirelessly to create an organization giving young women of color a chance to shine on the stage. The idea did not stop at the stage, as Arrington wanted to create positive images of women in the media, and build up “the whole woman, mind, body and spirit.”

Two decades later, Arrington has created an institution in the American culture. Her critically acclaimed Miss Black Talented Teen USA and Miss Black USA Pageants, taking place Aug. 7 and 8 respectively in Washington D.C., have also created numerous opportunities for Black women, not only in the limelight, but in the classroom as well.

Glitz and glamour will converge on the Chocolate City’s Lincoln Theatre, where the road to becoming Miss Black USA is not as easy as the talented women make it appear. Aspirants for the national crown have to successfully compete and win a title at the state level. Currently, there are 23 states in the country that offer pageants, and for hopefuls that live in states without a Miss Black competition, the at-large-delegate application is recommended.

Upon becoming a finalist in the Miss Black USA Pageant, the competition gets even tougher. The women converge on the nation’s capital to compete in five categories focusing on different aspects of the total woman. A personal interview is required, along with a talent, a question and answer segment, a talent showcase, and a personal fitness test. Contenders are then narrowed down to fifteen, and with their scores expunged, the women compete again in the same categories with the exception of the personal interview.

Osas Ighodaro, the reigning Miss Black USA, has kept a busy schedule since her crowning in August 2010. After her win, Ighodaro earned her master’s degree from Pace University, where she honed her performance skills at The Actors Studio. Aside from making television and film appearances, Miss Black USA has also traversed the globe in order to raise awareness of important issues such as mental and physical fitness.

“The Miss Black U.S.A. Pageant and Scholarship Foundation is committed to increasing awareness of Heart Disease and Obesity by forging relationships with organizations committed to research and education, such as The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth Campaign,” according to the organization’s press release.

While some see the pageant culture as degrading to women, no one can doubt the positive impact the Miss Black USA Pageant and Scholarship Foundation has had on the local community and beyond. The Foundation continues to work tirelessly to raise awareness about breast cancer, juvenile diabetes and the quality of life for women and children around the globe.

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer