Mister Jackson State University Joshua Edwards participated alongside 22 HBCU campus kings in the 19th Annual Mister HBCU Kings’ Leadership Conference and Competition in St. Louis, Missouri.
Last month, over four days, campus kings from across the country fellowshipped, engaged in professional development seminars, and ultimately sought to vie as the next Mister HBCU King in a pageant-based competition themed “Why Not a King?”
The theme explores the conversation surrounding the idea and relevance of Mister positions being introduced at universities. The implementation of Mister positions is fairly new, with many institutions still only having the queen position available.
“Being a part of this competition, and being Mister Jackson State, affords me the opportunity to show people something different,” Edwards said. “A lot of what I do is God-led. I don’t mind showing people my vulnerable side or just being honest about how I feel. I may not always have it together, and I’m not this perfect individual, but I’m the best Joshua that I am today.”
Edwards serves as the sixth Mister Jackson State University, with a mission to remind men of all ages that they can do anything they put their minds to. During the talent portion of the competition, he presented judges and audiences with a colorful array of skills and “gifts that God gave” him while challenging the narrative of what a campus king should look like.
Edwards played the trombone, followed by a fashion segment where he displayed self-styled outfits and a live art piece where he decorated and spray painted an article of clothing. Throughout the performance, audio from a favorite TEDTalk of Edwards also played that addressed topics such as toxic masculinity.
“I was able to show another side of Joshua that a lot of people don’t often see. Overall, my goal was to show them who Joshua is and the type of leaders Jackson State produces. They produce confident leaders who are okay with being themselves,” Edwards explained. “When you’re on this campus, you come in contact with various identities and personalities, and each and every one of those individuals is very confident in who they are.”
Edwards is the first Mister JSU to participate in the conference and credits former JSU kings and queens for sparking his interest in the competition. Although the process was emotional for him, Edwards says he had the full support of his advisor Brent Harris and JSU.
“It was really important for him to be himself. Even down to writing his oratory. He wrote his oratory, and I just coached him to feel comfortable with being able to speak from his heart, and it was received well,” said Harris, student engagement and leadership coordinator. “Every student is different. It’s just making sure that they are comfortable being who they want to be and not necessarily what society or their family or friends want them to be, but that they can truly be themselves.”
Edwards says that Harris was always adaptive to the ideas and changes he would make leading up to the pageant.
“Words can’t express how appreciative I am of his involvement, not only in this process but even in my life, because he just pushes me on so many levels,” Edwards said. “I appreciate him, and I don’t think he realizes how impactful he’s been. Mr. Harris has been amazing in so many aspects, and when I’m not having the best day, he encourages me to pick my head up and gives me the space to feel and grow.”
The St. Louis Alumni Chapter, the 83rd Miss JSU Naomi Harris, SGA President Madison Cathey, and Center for Student Engagement and Leadership Director Cateatra Mallard were all present at the competition, as well as the virtual audience.
Edwards, who placed in the top 11 of the competition, says that the conference gave him a deeper sense of confidence and brotherhood, and he is thankful for all of his supporters over the years. Participants were chosen to be in the top 11 based on a preliminary presentation of their oratory and talent portion for the judges.
“This was something that I prayed for. My biggest goal was to do what I was called to do but also be a very great representation of my institution and who I am as an individual. Win or lose,” said Edwards. “As I look back through my matriculation here at JSU, I just saw that I leveled up, not only physically but mentally, and JSU provided me with that.”
He shared a message to young men, boys, and aspiring kings everywhere.
“It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to not fit society’s standards of what they say a man or boy should be. Be okay with that. There are other people who are different, and there’s no one image of what a Black male is. Be who you want to be regardless of what people say or the images they paint. Just be you, king,” said Edwards.