Stereotypes, Pressure, & Building a Bond: A Conversation with Miss New York Continental's Finalists
On the surface, pageants seem to be about young women dolling themselves up to parade around a stage, begging for the approval of judges. But as six of the seven finalists of the Miss New York Continental pageant crowd around our interview table, I can tell you there’s far more to them than that. They’ve been hard at work preparing for the final night of the pageant, and based off of their razor sharp posture and engaging smiles, they seem more than ready to get to June 15th.
“I told my friends. I told everyone I know!” smiles Kayla Mcletchie, Representing St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “They were so excited, said they can’t wait to come and they’re going to make so much noise. Everyone’s been so supportive and excited”.
The hype surrounding this year’s Miss New York Continental pageant has been building since December of 2018. This year is expected to be their biggest and best year yet, with a goal of 300 guests.
Although the girls have had lots of fun during rehearsal and preparation, they have also faced some of the difficult challenges that come with being a part of beauty pageant, including stereotypes of being shallow or catty.
“I thought that too,” says Zaza Blackman, representing Trinidad and Tobago. “I’m a dancer, but actually going through this experience and meeting the other women, we learn a lot. We took an etiquette class. We actually do activities that bring us out of our comfort zone and teach us stuff and I think that’s what a pageant is really about. Its more about the lesson and the process that you went through.”
“I think this pageant is more so building character in us than just worrying about because you’re a girl you have to look this certain way or you have to pray all the time.” adds Jessica Pierre, Representing Haiti. “I think its more focused on how we’re going to be in the future. Like what kind of women, we’re going to be towards the next generation.”
And it’s true. The women of this pageant are invested in improving the world and are far more involved in their communities than is expected. These young women are not only participants in this competition, but are in school, maintain jobs, and on top of that, volunteer their time in different ways.
“I work at a mental health clinic. I’ve gotten my job involved with soup kitchens, but I started it.” Explains Takiyaa Heyward, Representing Jamaica. “I actually go there and let them know about the resources of my job which is a nonprofit organization to help people with mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and things of that nature.”
But what anyone will notice most after being around these girls, even for just a few moments, is the bond of sisterhood they have created amongst themselves. As I speak with them, I observe the silent nods of approval and smiles of support they give one another. It’s clear that what is most important in this competition is not winning, but creating a palpable community of forthright intelligent young women from the Caribbean.
“I didn’t know anybody until now and their personalities are all just so diverse and unique. I’m having fun with all of them. I love them all,” laughs Tiffany Whittaker, representing Guyana.
Even in difficult moments, they have learned to lean on each other for support and guidance.
“Well, the hardest part for me has been the dance. I am not a dancer!” continues Whittaker. The girls all laugh, sharing an inside joke. “So it’s challenging for me, but Dalees [Helphdgue, representing Haiti] will be like “Come on Tiffany you got it!”
“Even though it’s a competition, we still have each others’ back,” Kayla adds with a proud beam.
We close the interview and move easily into a short ceremony of appreciation for the girls’ hard work. As they all applaud each other for their achievements, I know that there will be many more to come for this group.
The Miss New York Continental Pageant Final will be held on June 15th at Wingate High School. Please reach out to any member of the CACG for further information.