Proving that the third time really is the charm, Connecticut resident Tonille Watkis claimed the honor of 2016 Miss Black USA on Aug. 7 during the annual pageant at the University of the District of Columbia. Amidst her win, she received pushback from other women because of the racial distinction.
Tonnille Watkis, the new Miss Black USA, intends to use her platform to serve as a positive role model for the Black community and raise awareness about heart disease. (Photos by Rob Roberts)
“People will constantly question why there’s a Miss Black USA, why there’s a Miss Black Connecticut, why do you need that type of pageant, things of that nature,” she said. “It’s just this feeling of negativity, like Miss Black USA is undeserving of that recognition you would give maybe a Miss USA because of the word ‘Black.’”
Even so, Watkis is elated to receive the honor and sees her platform and work as important. “The honor of being Miss Black USA means everything to me. I come from a bi-cultural family,” she told the AFRO. “In recognizing the duality of who I am as a Black woman, as well, I’m able to stand up for this marginalized group within the Black community and I can say I’m a representative of what it means to be a Black woman too.”
During her reign, Watkis adopted the Miss Black USA Heart Truth Campaign to raise awareness about the effect of heart disease on Black women. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease kills nearly 50,000 Black women per year with only 1 in 5 actually believing that heart disease could be a potential risk. “What we want to do is educate people about the risk factors even starting at a very young age. I hope to raise awareness to women in their early 20s because it’s never too late to take care of yourself and learning how to take care of yourself and learning how to take preventative measures so that you can reduce the risk factors,” she said.
Tonnille Watkis, the new Miss Black America, intends to use her platform to serve as a positive role model for the Black community and raise awareness about heart disease. (Photos by Rob Roberts)
Even though Watkis, 25, experienced challenges during her preparation for the pageant, such as finding sponsors, her ultimate goal is to spread the message of Black beauty throughout the world. “I still feel like we don’t have enough positive role models who are shedding great light and doing great things of this age group and I want to be that representative,” she said, referencing her initiative “No Boxes Allowed,” a one woman show for underprivileged young girls to helps them understand and take care of their bodies.
Watkis, a Jamaican American, attended Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre with a concentration in acting. Watkis also attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where she earned a diploma in classical acting. She said she wants to be a philanthropist and an actress.
Watkis was raised by a single mother, Valerie Campbell, along with her aunt and grandparents. “My mom is absolutely my greatest supporter, she is amazing and wonderful. Thanks to her, my aunt, my grandmother, my grandfather, I never really felt like I was missing any part of my family because I don’t really have a relationship with my father. So I really identify with that saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” she said.
Watkis received $6,000 in scholarship money and is scheduled to do a photo shoot. She is heading to Ghana soon and will be modeling in the country’s fashion week from