By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Thirty young ladies ages 6 to 12 glowed with pride as they participated in the 25th annual Miss African American Scholarship Pageant Aug. 12 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
The pageant, which promotes self-esteem and empowerment in young girls and offers scholarships to further enhance their futures, delighted the capacity crowd of family and friends by performing a variety of skits, monologues and dance routines throughout the evening.
Judges scored the girls on poise, stage presence and public speaking.
“The pageant was a great forum for your African American girls to express themselves and demonstrate their ability to communicate the goals to the public,” said Mike Davis, of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, who presented the girls with the Community Service Award. “We need to continue this program to instill confidence, awareness and pride in the young woman in our communities.”
Alfred Lone III, deputy for Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, said the pageant has served as a stepping stone for girls to accomplish greater achievements in the future.
“I have no doubt that the girls will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, or even president of the United States,” he said.
Serving as judges for the pageant were actress Ella Joyce of the television show “Roc;” comedienne Kim Whitley of “Raising Whitley;” Roz Ryan of “Amen;” radio personality and professor at Santa Monica College Ron Brewington; Sabrina Garba, CEO of Glass House Productions; director and actress Sondra McClain and Nicole Davis, executives at Oprah Winfrey Network; Lauren Mac from the “Fabulous Life;” and Peter Wise of the casting company Wise and Associates.
“This is a special year because it is the 25th year of the pageant,” said Sheree Fletcher, who has participated in the pageant for 20 years.
Penny Johnson Gerald, an actress on the science fiction series “Orville” who served as one of the presenters, gave a special tribute to Lisa Ruffin, founder of the pageant.
“Lisa Ruffin has inspired many girls to become dynamic young women,” Gerald said.
Other presenters during the evening were actor Jim Pickens of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Fletcher of “Hollywood Wives” and Claudia Jordan of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Stage and screen actor Ben Vereen, pastor Michael Beckworth of Agape Church, and Erica Campbell of the gospel group “Mary Mary” beamed from the audience as they silently encouraged the girls.
The evening opened with a high-stepping jitterbug number performed by two of the tiny tots dressed in shiny red and silver costumes followed by an emotional, heart-wrenching vocal performance titled “For Every Mountain” sung by Janet Freeman, a finalist on “The Voice,” who received a standing ovation.
The girls recited original monologues titled “Me and My Heritage” and also delivered spirited dramatizations of favorite historical figures and moments in black history, including a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance, a speech of pride for the continent of Africa, a tribute to astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a tribute to actress and dancer Josephine Baker, the archaeological Lucy, credited to be the oldest known woman in the archaeological history, a tribute to Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, a tribute to Black Lives Matter and the Black Arts Movement, tributes to Queen Nzinga and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, a nod to black revolutionaries, and an acknowledgement of former Little Miss African American Pageant queens.
A dramatic presentation of the Black Statue of Liberty and a spirited monologue on becoming the first female president of the United States brought thunderous applause.
Several of the girls received a number of declarations, including the Producer Award, the Director Award, the Academic Excellence Award, the Golden Heart Award, the Community Service Award, Performance Award and the Outstanding Community Service Award.
One of the highlights of the show was when several former Miss African American pageant winners were introduced on stage. The ladies had flown in from Washington, D. C., Virginia, Texas and Atlanta to attend the event.
They included Shakinah Douglas, a practicing attorney; Notre Dame graduate Laura Hayes; and American University graduate Alicia Jones.
Nasareen El ShaBazz was crowned queen of the pageant followed by first runner-up Zoe Malik, second runner-up Angel Morgan, third runner-up Zoe Simon and fourth runner-up Imani Marie Roberson.
Ruffin beamed with pride during the two-hour event as each girl shined on stage. Ruffin, who founded the pageant in 1993, said she was encouraged to start the pageant to encourage young girls to reach greater heights.
“As a child, I was a participant in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and I was hurt that they treated the little African-American girls differently,” Ruffin recalls. “I didn’t want other little black girls to go through that experience.”