Friday, April 07, 2006
Pageant winner finds her place
Virginia Tech instructor Takiyah Nur Amin is the 2006 Miss Black Virginia USA.
Gene Dalton | Roanoke Times
BLACKSBURG -- Takiyah Nur Amin is radiant as she gives her staccato spiel listing all the reasons she should not compete in a beauty pageant.
"I'm too fat. I'm too black. I have a ring in my nose. I have a tattoo. My name is strange."
"When I walked into the Miss America pageant system," she said with a beaming smile, "someone asked me if I was in the right place."
Apparently, Amin was in the right place.
In Miss America competition preliminaries, she walked away from the 2001 Miss Buffalo pageant as second runner-up. The only young black woman among the 12 contestants, she never once felt out of place.
"Not at all," she said. "If it's an issue of me being different, that's always been someone else's issue. Pageants truly celebrate that individual spark in a young woman. It's not about other people. It's about me trying to do my best."
If there's one thing Amin always does, it's her best.
After earning a master's degree in arts administration from Virginia Tech in 2004, the New York native now teaches Africana studies and serves as an outreach coordinator for the university's Multicultural Programs office.
She's a dance instructor at Carol Crawford-Smith's Center of Dance, a religious education assistant at Blacksburg's Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a member of a whole slew of community organizations and a volunteer with both the Interfaith Food Pantry and Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia.
And she's the new Virginia representative for the Miss Black USA scholarship pageant, an event run by the nonprofit Miss Black USA Pageant Scholarship Foundation to provide a platform devoted solely to promoting leadership skills and talents of black women.
Karen Lyew, the foundation's executive director of pageant relations, said Miss Black USA is an educational pageant that has evolved since its beginning in 1986.
"Karen Arrington founded the pageant. This was her dream," Lyew said. "Twenty years ago, we were not accepted. When the Miss America pageant started, it was only for Caucasian women. ... The standards are still not the same. Diversity is not at the level we would like it to be, so there is still a need. As sad as it is, we're not on an equal playing field."
Amin, who's now 26 and has aged out of Miss America competition, sees pageants -- all pageants -- as a way to challenge people's ideas.
At a statuesque 5-feet tall and a weight that she says is more than the height-to-weight ratio chart recommends, Amin was never a likely candidate for swimsuit parades.
But she has always loved pageants.
"I would watch them on television when Miss America would come on," she recalled. "I always felt like I should be a part of it. I would always ask my mother to be in a pageant."
Her mother, a dedicated educator, discouraged the young Amin from pageantry -- partly because she didn't like the idea of girls being judged solely on how they looked and partly because she was afraid her daughter's feelings would be hurt.
When she was 16, however, Amin begged her mother to let her enter a local pageant in Buffalo. Karima Amin relented but told her daughter she refused to help her prepare for the pageant.
Takiyah Amin won the Miss Young, Gifted and Black Pageant, placing first in talent, modeling and congeniality.
"My mother came fully expecting to comfort me," she said with a laugh. "She had to admit to me later that she was impressed.
"I did my first pageant when I was 16, and it's been moving forward ever since. I love to dress up, and I love to talk about what I believe. Pageants are a perfect venue for that."
At the University of Buffalo, where Amin did undergraduate work, she won the Miss Black Student Union Pageant.
Then she won the Miss Cabaret title in a pageant sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. She was selected to wear the homecoming queen crown by a majority of the university's 30,000 students and she was thrilled.
"Roses, that big crown, my name on the scoreboard," she recalled blissfully. "I decided to pursue the Miss America venue."
In her run for the Miss Buffalo crown, Amin's spirit was expressed poignantly in a sketch she did for the talent competition.
Her performance, based on a fable by Arnold Lobel called "The Dancing Camel," portrayed a camel aspiring to be a ballerina. The big, lumpy creature decided to ignore the dream-bashers who told her she wasn't cut out for ballet.
"She decides she's going to dance for herself because it brings her joy," Amin said. "I think that inspires people."
Unlike the Miss USA pageant -- part of a Donald Trump-NBC Universal partnership -- the Miss Black USA pageant does not have a swimsuit competition but does have a talent segment.
Amin is excited about that.
"For talent, I'm not sure what I'll do yet, but it needs to be something striking and different. It will be something to see come October, I'll tell you that."
"Talent," she noted, "is my second favorite part of competition. My favorite part is interview."
Because she is a teacher, Amin is used to thinking on her feet. Still, she practices answering pageant questions on a daily basis, often with friends in a Yahoo group who send her questions.
The hardest question she ever got in competition was when she was asked to describe the most interesting thing about herself.
"I hadn't thought about that," she said. "It's hard for me to talk about myself."
Amin answered by saying that her strongest ability is attracting people across perceived boundaries.
"I think that's a spiritual gift," she said. "It's something I'm really humbled by."
Amin will represent Virginia in the Miss Black USA pageant Oct. 14 in Washington, D.C. Last year's event was televised by the Black Family Channel.
Kristy Chance, the 2005 Virginia delegate, was third runner-up in the national contest.
The University of Maryland graduate -- who has won many pageant titles in Maryland and Virginia -- said participation in the Miss Black USA pageant was the most rewarding experience she's had to date.
"It had the most camaraderie, and it had the best family feel," Chance said.
"Takiyah is going to make a great Miss Black Virginia," she added. "She has a lot of hard work ahead of her to prepare for Miss Black USA."
But Amin already knows that.
"Pageants are won in the details," she said. "The girl who wins is the one who is the most prepared and makes the least mistakes."
Takiyah Nur Amin’s boyfriend, Kenan Davis, will have a big job to do when Amin heads to Washington in October for the Miss Black USA pageant. “He’s extremely supportive,” Amin said. “He’ll be there in October, carrying my bags.”
Amin will have to have a complete wardrobe for the week of activities leading up to the pageant, as well as two evening gowns for the event. Although she often finds bargains on eBay, she said she would even consider wearing Hokie orange if a sponsor stepped forward with a dress.“I would love an orange evening gown. I’d be a beautiful pumpkin gliding down the runway!” Her favorite colors, however, are pastel yellow and royal blue.
Amin, who works out regularly by teaching dance classes, said she does not go on a crash diet to prepare for the pageant. She does, however, watch her sugar intake because “sugar can wreck your skin.”She describes herself as short and round. “Curvaceous,” she noted, “is a fine word.”
Her makeup philosophy? “Gloss it up!”The dreadlocks, she said, will stay.“I don’t feel like I’m a black woman by accident. I don’t feel like I have nappy hair by accident. To me, authenticity is beautiful.”
A big part of pageantry these days involves providing community service through various platforms. Miss Black Virginia USA has created “Shop Talk: Taking Black Women’s Health to the Streets.”
Takiyah Nur Amin is partnering with the Montgomery County Health Department for this educational program. She plans to present workshops in beauty salons, barbershops, spas and other places that attract women.“When you’ve got a woman under a hair dryer,” she reasoned, “you’ve got a captive audience.”
Amin’s aim is to teach about the leading causes of death among black women: HIV-AIDS, stroke, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.