Most ladies search and find the perfect pageant dress months prior to the competition. Going on instinct, Imani Harris decided to change her evening gown at the last minute. Following her gumption, eloquently adorned in a black lace ensemble, Miss Harris sashayed away with the title of Miss Black Mississippi USA 2018.
A junior public relations major at the University of Southern Mississippi, Miss Harris uses her platform, Project Jamila, to aid in building self-esteem in adolescent teens. A struggle Imani knows very well. I talked with this ambitious and beautiful queen about her definition of beauty, her break from pageantry and the true reason why she decided to apply to the Miss Black Mississippi Scholarship Pageant.
Q: At what age did you start entering pageants?
IH: It hasn’t been a consistent thing. I did two pageants when I was eighteen. It was my freshmen year of college. My third one was Miss Black Mississippi.
Q: Growing up watching pageants, was there one queen that inspired you?
IH: I had a lot of friends that were into it. They, like many, had been doing it since they were really little. I thought it was something that I would do well at but the opportunity didn’t present itself until college.
Q: Tell us about the Miss Black Mississippi pageant.
IH: Miss Black Mississippi Organization is connected to the Miss Black USA. So there is another level to this pageant. It’s a premiere pageant for women of color. They provide sponsors and scholarships. If you compete and win on a state level, you’ll go on to the national level.
They really do a lot for women of color in the United States. The people that get involved with the organization are introduced to a lot of things that they normally wouldn’t be introduced to. They present a lot of opportunities for growth in whatever your field or career is in. Socially, you get to meet a lot of people. I know that they’ve had a lot of women who’ve competed in the pageant to go on to modeling and even some lawyers to help pay for stuff like that. So it’s a really good opportunity for women of color.
Q: Tell us about Project Jamila and how did you overcome your self-esteem issues.
IH: In some issues, low self-esteem still tries to come up. Somehow you have to get to the point in really believing the things that other people see in you. Sometimes its hard to see great things in yourself. It helps to not define my life, beauty, talent, and success by what I see on social media. I think that’s one of the biggest problems. A lot of times we let what we see in other people’s lives dictate our own. So I got to the point where I didn’t really do that anymore. It took me a lot of years to really walk in who I was and figure out who I actually wanted to be.
Q: What is your definition of beauty?
IH: I don’t really have a definition of it. I think it depends on the person. I don’t think of beauty as an outside thing. I think it has a lot to do with what’s on the inside of you and how you interact with other people. I think it has a lot to do with how you carry and feel about yourself. You can be the most beautiful person on the outside but have a lot of ugly stuff going on in the inside. You don’t look beautiful to other people because of that.
Q: During the pageant, what is the one item you can’t live without?
IH: For me, it was food. (Laughs) I think one of the biggest things you need to have is a mirror. Sometimes they provide a mirror but other times you have to make due with what they give you. If you have your own, you can see what’s working. You can fix your hair and makeup. You can see how your outfit is fitting. Of course, they have bathrooms, but it’s hard going back and forth.
Q: How do you know when you have found “the dress?”
IH: I actually bought a dress and it did not work for me. It was a pretty white dress. Then, I bought another dress. I tried it on, looked at it and it wasn’t the one I needed to wear. I already had this black dress and I had never worn it. I actually tried it on a couple of nights before the pageant and it fit like a glove.
Q: What is your platform as the reigning Miss Black Mississippi?
IH: My platform is Project Jamila. Jamila is Swahili for beautiful. So it’s really “Project Beautiful”. We’re actually working on rebranding it. The whole basis is redefining self-esteem and embracing natural beauty for girls in the community. We want to really drive home how important self-esteem is.
Q: Tell us about your preparation for Nationals? Where will it be held?
IH: It’s actually going to be in Washington D.C. next August. The categories are Talent, Fitness, Interview, On-Stage Questions, and Evening Gowns. It’s so far away, I probably won’t start preparing until it’s closer. Some of the things I need to do is make sure that I am well versed in current events in the African American community, work on my body and singing for my talent.
Q: Where do you hope this pageant will take you?
IH: I’m not the typical pageant girl. I have short hair. I don’t wear weave. I wear makeup when I feel like it’s important. If not, I ‘m not going to have it on. I don’t plan on doing pageants for the rest of my life. (Laughs) I want to take the experience to be able to give a better experience to someone else who may be interested in it. I really just want to share my experience and build a platform. Usually, this sort of thing does that for people. Hopefully, it will do it for me to really implement a lot of other things I want to do in the community, for my career and self, which has nothing to do with pageants.
Q: What would you tell a young girl with hopes of stepping into pageantry?
IH: I would tell her to go for it because you really don’t know what you’re capable of doing until you just do it. The days before the pageant, I was like, “There is no way I am going to win this pageant. I don’t know why I’m doing this.” Then, I won! So you really don’t know your limits until you test them. Like I said earlier, low self-esteem tried to come back and had me feeling inadequate, but I went, did my best and won. Now, there is a whole other world of opportunity to me. If you don’t think you can do it, do it well and just go for it!