Absolutely nothing could have prepared me for this journey. I'm still learning who Miss Black and Gold is, and who I want her to be. The crown is less than 1% of the story.
Contestant number ten, your question reads. . . .
Contestant number six, your question reads. . . .
Contestant number one, your question reads. . . .
Contestant number one, your question reads. . . .
From August 2014 to August 2015, I have been blessed to participate in 4 Miss Black and Gold Pageants. Four? I can hardly believe it, myself. The first pageant, for the Alpha Rho Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., took place on October 31st, 2014. This was actually my second pageant in life (I won the Miss Central New York scholarship pageant my senior year in high school), but it was my first Black and Gold pageant.
Now, Miss Black and Gold has several parts to it. First and foremost, Miss Black and Gold is the woman who represents the first Black intercollegiate, Greek-letter fraternity. Alpha Phi Alpha is a fraternity, so the woman who wins represents a group of men. Am I the only woman who finds herself a bit nervous at this thought? I definitely did. I walked into the Miss Black and Gold informational at Morehouse College, and completely freaked out. I remember sitting outside of the conference room in which the informational took place, to my right and left were dozens of women, faces beat, hair laid, many knew the bruhs (men of Alpha Rho) way better than I did, and I just knew I was in the wrong lane. I sat through the informational as the former queens spoke to us with their fabulous selves about their fabulosity, I continued to smile nervously, and ran back to my room to tell my best friend about how crazy it all was. She agreed, it was a bit crazy, but we both silently agreed that it was something I had to do. I had spoken to my best friend about doing the pageant since my freshman year, and I knew that if I didn't do it, I would always ask myself 'what if?'. I'm not into 'what if's,' so I went ahead with the application, and was invited back for an interview.
The interview was probably a hundred times more scary than the informational. I sat outside of a different conference room, with my tights, leotard, and ballet skirt on, ready to speak about myself and show a bit of my talent. I peeked into the window of the room where the past Miss Black and Gold queens and about 6 bruhs sat waiting to hear what the interviewees had to say. As I sat nervously, awaiting my turn, one of the bruhs who was on his way back into the conference room sat next to me. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
Well, I sort of want to pass out.
I felt like saying that, but of course, as far as he needed to know, I was "fine." He gave a kind smile, and reassured me that everything would be cool. He reminded me to be myself, and to have fun. I didn't know at the time how valuable those two pieces of advice would be, but I thanked him and he went ahead inside. The interview went better than I expected it to, considering my nerves, and my talent preview went pretty well, too. After a few more events that we had to attend as part of our entire application (yes, it was pretty extensive), 13 of us were allowed to move forward as contestants. That's when the real work began.
In the Atlanta University Center (the 3 member institutions we will consider for now are Spelman, Morehouse, and Clark Atlanta), there is no such thing as a regular event. Every single event, especially pageants, are full-fledge productions. Months and months of planning, group-me arguments, nervous breakdowns, blood, sweat, and tears (literally) go into pulling these AUC pageants off, and there is always plenty of drama to make things exciting. We had rehearsal every day (I wont get into the length of these, just know we were well prepared) and an elaborate unveiling in front of the entire AUC at Hump Wednesday. We did the Alpha’s strolls (or “hops,” if you’re talking to the brothers of Alpha Rho) in heels and introduced ourselves publically after months of rehearsing under the radar. From there, more work began. Lots more.
During the pageant, I was working as a resident advisor in a freshman dorm at Spelman, which was pretty tricky to manage on top of the pageant, being a Biology major and working as a research intern at Morehouse School of Medicine. A few days before the pageant, I was walking back from Morehouse School of Medicine in a daze. I was sleep deprived, mentally exhausted, and really scared for the pageant that was coming up so quickly. I pulled out my phone and called my resident director, who was my boss in the resident advisor position. I’m still not sure why she was the one who I called, but I know that I needed someone who was absolutely impartial and willing to listen. She heard my voice shaking, and invited me up to her office. I ran straight there, closing the door behind me, and completely broke down. After months and months of preparation, I had lost sight of why I wanted it. I couldn’t remember what any of it meant to me, in that moment, and just wanted my life back. She reminded me why, in a powerful way, and refocused my thoughts in an instant. “You’ve beaten yourself into the ground for this,” she said. “You’ve done the work, and you finish what you start.” I had nothing to say or do except wipe my tears and make a plan for the rest of the week, incorporating at least 4 hours of sleep into each night. I left feeling more courageous for having met my insecurities about the pageant once and for all- face on. I finish what I start, and I couldn’t turn back.
Finally, on October 31st, it was time to make it happen. 13 of us, as well as our pageant directors, circled up on the dimly lit stage in King Chapel. Our pageant director said: “You ladies are ready. Now, it comes down to this: “do you want to be Miss Black and Gold, or not?”
I wasn’t sure.
Yes, I did want to be Miss Black and Gold, and I had worked myself to the bone to make sure that I had a fighting chance, but I still wanted to know what it meant to actually be that woman. Would it always be so much work? How could I truly represent a chapter of a fraternity that is so popular on campus when I knew some of their “hops” better than I knew some of their members? What could I bring to the table as a sophomore? How much more could I sacrifice?
The pageant started and finished in what seemed like an instant.
October 31st, approximately 10:30pm: I felt a flash of heat from the fireworks that went off at the front of the stage after the winner was introduced (I told you it was a production), and, next thing I knew, I was walking to the center of the stage and the former queen had a crown for me. Shock is an absolute understatement.
I woke up the next day feeling like it was Christmas morning. Relieved and excited to really figure out what the crown would allow me to do. I had so many ideas; such detailed plans, and suddenly no need to run to rehearsal every night. For a while, I disregarded the emails that my pageant director would send me about the Georgia state Miss Black and Gold pageant in a few short weeks from that time. Well, those few short weeks flew by, and I found myself packing up for Miss Black and Gold round 2. After a killer chemistry exam on Friday November 21st, I loaded up the car with other brothers from Alpha Rho, and headed to the district convention.
We were late, really late, and I walked into the Meet and Greet straight off the road feeling super embarrassed. I met some of the other contestants and finally understood that I had an entirely new pageant to do. I couldn’t imagine starting such a thing all over again, and just tried to remain calm. The next day, right before the interview, I mentally replayed the emergency meeting that I had with my boss. You finish what you start. I started a new thing, and all I had to do was finish it. One step at a time. This time, my pageant sisters from Alpha Rho joined me and helped me through the rehearsal process. So at districts, 3 months of rehearsals are jam-packed into the afternoon of pageant day, and it was absolutely crazy. I thought to myself, what in the world am I doing this again for?! The stress of one pageant, again, but on overdrive and all in one day. I walked into the hotel ballroom that the pageant would take place in for our last intro dance rehearsal, and someone had laid out the winners crown, sash, and trophies on a small table next to the stage.
Not my will, but yours be done, Lord. If those are for me, I will have them. You are in control.
The pageant went by even faster than the local campus pageant. Miss congeniality was announced, best talent, best swimsuit, and finally… the winner.
Shock is an understatement. I saw the bruhs from Alpha Rho absolutely lose it, and a flood of relief and excitement hit me beautifully. Another one down; wasn’t any easier, but so worth it.
Winter break passed, a new semester began, and life almost felt halfway normal again. I grew into my position as Miss Black and Gold of Alpha Rho and of Georgia district, hosted some fun and meaningful events, and continued to figure out who this Miss Black and Gold figure really ought to be. I had so much fun planning and executing different events around campus in partnership with Alpha Rho. My favorite events were ones that felt almost impossible during the initial planning stages, like Miss Representation, but ended up working out beautifully.
Around the end of January 2015, my pageant director from districts sent me the email that I feared might make its way into my inbox.
Lord. Have. Mercy.
This time, although it still seemed absolutely crazy, I geared up for the pageant to come without wasting so much time doubting that it was actually real. Yes, I had to do another one. Yes, I was scared. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I still just wanted to be a student.
Yes, I finish what I start.
A new addition to the whole Miss Black and Gold pageant thing, at the regional level, is that I needed an escort from my chapter. I had no idea who to ask, and sat silently on it for a few weeks. I observed the bruhs from my chapter carefully and thought about who might be cool to accompany me for the roller coaster that is pageantry. Kevin Harvey, a senior business administration major, was my first and only choice. I asked him, nervous for what he would think, but relieved to find that he was, in his words, “all in.” In the weeks leading up to the pageant, he was one thousand percent present and committed. During the pageant, he supported me in every way. To this day, he remains indescribably present, committed, and supportive.
At the regional level, these ladies knew what they were doing. I couldn’t believe how beautifully polished these women were, and I was just grateful for the opportunity to compete with them! We all linked hands with our escorts and pageant directors for prayer before hitting the stage for the regional show, and I knew that there was no loss. At that point, His plan was enough, and I committed myself to move forward in love and gratitude for the chance to finish what I started, once again.
Miss congeniality was announced, best talent, best swimsuit, and finally… the winner.
From the state of Georgia. Contestant 1... Jasmin Eatman
To say the least, I was in a daze. My family always jokes that in the video, it looks like I’m in a trance until Kevin shakes me up a little bit. “Hey,” he said, “this is you!” For the third time, shock was an understatement, and I just sat in awe of God’s faithfulness. I understood, only then, that it’s not about finishing what I start, but it’s about trusting that He will finish His work in me. Representing an entire region of Alpha men was absolutely over my head. I didn’t know how to even approach or describe this role, but I felt comfort in the fact that it wasn’t bigger than me, just a new challenge that needed a bit of exploration. Taking on the title of Miss Alpha South taught me that I didn’t need to be worried about how to represent a group of men, as long as I worked in a spirit of love and joy! A couple of weeks after the regional pageant, Alpha Rho put out their Spring 2015 line, the Prodigious 17, and I was absolutely honored to be able to welcome them. I felt confident in my excitement, and took on every detail of P17’s family unveiling- from the cake, balloons, sign, and court outfit coordination, down to the black paper cups and gold table confetti.
I found family in Alpha Rho. I felt my womanhood strengthened by a beautiful sense of pride in representing the men of Alpha Phi Alpha.
So, no one specifically stated that there would be a national pageant. I vaguely remembered that there was some weird national pageant schedule where it took place every other year. Or was it every three years? I wasn’t sure. I tried to hang onto the sense of excitement and relief that I felt from leaving one pageant victoriously. As I finished the end of the academic term, and prepared to study abroad in London, England for the summer, I waited for word on the national pageant. Weeks went by, and I figured that maybe I was finally finished. Black and Gold could finally be a memory.
Nope. The email came.
Oh, sure. No problem. Pageantry can take over my entire life once again, and that can totally be a thing as I manage classes and research overseas.
Of course, this wasn’t realistic. At least, Black and Gold couldn’t take over my entire life. Most of it, but not all of it. At this point, with three behind me, I had sort of an idea of what it would mean to actually give my all to pageant preparation, and could figure out how much I could actually give while I was trying to make it halfway across the globe. I arrived in London with a plan, with my family and friends on board, and with a spirit of determination. I finish what I start, I was excited to finish Black and Gold at the highest level once and for all. Some nights I laid down with my thoughts, and allowed myself to be completely petrified at the thought that I would be competing to represent the entire fraternity. That was okay. What wasn’t okay, and what I learned to let go of, was the crippling sense of fear that came from convincing myself that I had to move through the entire thing perfectly. No one is perfect, no matter how many pageants have been won, and I had to allow myself the room and headspace to make my mistakes.
The summer looked a bit like this, save school and research: countless dance classes in London, sneaking into studios to practice my talent after work, sticking to a pretty restrictive diet during the week (and enjoying myself in other countries over the weekend- the pizza was absolutely phenomenal in Italy), creating the music for my talent on garageband in random coffeeshops, and lots of email threads with my best friend as I tried to send the national pageant directors all of the documents that they needed. Two months flew by and I found myself on a plane back to the States. As soon as I touched down in New York, I got a key to my home studio and rehearsed every day until leaving for Charlotte, North Carolina.
August 6th came in a whirlwind. Three hours before the pageant and an hour before the interview, during tech rehearsal, my pointe shoe broke my right toenail in half after my left one was already gone. I bled through part of my shoe, and after months of diligent preparation I faced the possibility that things could seriously go wrong. I allowed the fear to come and go, but it couldn't stay.
Several events and appearances preceded the actual pageant, but by the time the pageant came I was mentally and physically ready to get the show going. My family, friends, and Alpha Rho court sisters joined me in North Carolina for the pageant, in full support. The moment came, and it was time to watch Him finally finish His work in me, through the final Miss Black and Gold pageant. Round 4. In a similar way that the crown, sash, and trophies were laid out next to the stage at the district pageant, the national crown sat next to the stage on a small table, waiting for its owner. I stared at the crown intently. I didn’t pray that I would win, but that the winner would be prepared mentally and spiritually for the responsibility that it is to take on the national title. I prayed that, if it was in His will for that woman to be me, that He would guide me in that position.
The new National Miss Black and Gold, who will represent the fraternity over the next two years…
I don’t know what came first, the silent scream or the ugly cry. Probably the ugly cry. After months and months and months of preparation, through doubt and fear, over miles and oceans, I found myself in that very moment. Thinking back, tears return in the same way that they presented themselves during that crowning. One thing I know for sure, is that none of it was in my will for my life. If it was according to my will, I would have dropped it all the day that I called my boss, choking on my own fear. I would have given up when I found out that I would have to parade in a swimsuit or speak in front of a national convention of Alphas. The journey was far from perfect, but God’s will is sustaining. It is so much greater than anything that I could have ever imagined, and I am forever, forever, forever grateful. The beauty in pageantry isn’t the crown, sash, or trophies (although all of that is truly beautiful). Pageantry is a celebration of self, of womanhood, and I am better for it.
I guess it might look like a happily ever after, and in many ways, I think it is. A twisted up, sometimes terrifying, challenging, blooper-filled, absolutely thrilling happily ever after. What it was not, however, was perfect, and I would never have wanted it to be. Who is Miss Black and Gold? I'm not sure. I don't think I could ever really be sure. I'm meeting her, though, and loving her for all her imperfections- growing more intimate in this love every day. She is growing, and she is grateful. I love who she has been, and who she will be.
If this is happily ever after, there is no "the end." Cheers to embracing continuous evolution, finding joy in our challenges, hope in our fears, and gratitude for our eternal crowns.
To God be the glory, honor, and power forever. There is absolutely nothing that His power in you cannot do.