TeKema Balentine’s life changed on August 11, 2019 when she was crowned Miss Black USA 2019. An activist, scholar and social justice advocate from Madison, Wisconsin. this year’s winner is pursuing a nursing degree at Madison College. But although she is seen wearing a beautiful crown that glitters, her back story is inspiring.
The contestant hopeful drove over 1,000 miles from her hometown in Wisconsin to Washington, DC where the pageant was going to take place. Balentine beat out 33 other contestants and won a $20,000 prize package, including a $5,000 academic scholarship.
Right On! Digital’s Cynthia Horner caught up with Balentine who gave an insightful interview.
A. First, thank you for the feature. I, too, am a Right On! fan girl! I want to say to your readers, that you are enough. You are more than enough. We live in a time where our rights and identities are being taken from us. Let us own our power and walk in it.
Q. What made you desire to become Miss Black USA? And why is Miss Black USA important for women of color and young women?
A. “The highest human act is to inspire.” – Nipsey Hussle. I entered Miss Black USA to serve as an example for young girls in Wisconsin that you are not defined by your circumstances. Miss Black USA is more than a pageant; it’s a movement that celebrates, educates, and elevates Black women who too often invisible in the media. Miss Black USA is the largest scholarship pageant for Black girls and women and has awarded over $500,000 in scholarships. Many of their alumni have gone on to highly successful careers. Miss Black USA has given me a global platform to be a part of something bigger than myself, while earning a degree in Nursing at Madison Technical College. Miss Black USA is the HBCU of pageantry and redefining beauty. I encourage other ambitious women, regardless of their socio-economic status, size, shade or hair texture to sign up at www.missblackusa.org.
Q. What were some of the feelings that were going through your head as you realized that you were the winner? We are so happy for you.
A. It was surreal. I was in total disbelief. I knew that I had done my best and left it all on the stage. But, I also witnessed the amazing performances of the other women competing for the title. The coveted crown could have gone to anyone.
Q. You had the odds stacked against you, yet you were willing to try to make this happen. What are some of your inner qualities that gave you the incentive to try to win the contest and are there any particular role models who have had your back in recent years?
A. I’ve learned throughout my life that not everything is impossible. Even the word itself says IM POSSIBLE. It is important to believe in yourself, have a high self-esteem and confidence and know that what is for you is for you and no one can take from you. And when the odds are stacked against you, take a step back and learn how to navigate around those odds.
Q. What message would you give to young women who may have feelings of inadequacy?
A. I would encourage those women not to compare themselves to others, that’s often what leads to feelings of inadequacy, and trying to live up to the standards of other people. Remember, you weren’t born to fit in. You were born to stand out. You are enough. Scratch that. You are more than enough. And, I’m rooting for you.
Q. You are a health advocate. Can you talk about the importance of physical fitness, nutrition and wellness?
A. Yes. I am honored to serve as a celebrity advocate for the Heart Truth campaign. The campaign raises awareness of heart disease, the leading cause of death of women in the U.S. We know that if we can reach girls and women at a younger age, we can prevent the disease later. Health and wellness is not just about size, it’s about fitness. Miss Black USA got rid of the swimsuit competition and replaced it with fitness wear, long before it was popular. Fitness isn’t about looking good, it’s about feeling good, confident, strong, and beautiful in your own skin. Exercise and nutrition are essential to wellness.
Q. What are some of your goals as Miss Black USA and what are your current educational endeavors?
A. As the official spokesperson for the Miss Black USA Pageant, I have several goals. 1) To advocate on behalf of heart health to reduce the health disparities that exist for Black women. To show up in spaces that were not meant for me. Unapologetically. Be a strong and positive role model for not only girls in the U.S. but in Africa where we have a library named in our honor. Any time you are part of a subculture, it’s important to have your own reward system. I also want to partner with hair and beauty brands that celebrate the unique traits and beauty of Black women. As far as my educational goals, someone recently said to me “Quality of life is non-existent for a person of color unless they are successful through higher education.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m focused on pursuing my academic career goals and encouraging other Brown girls to pursue higher education.
Q. What did you do to prepare yourself for the contest and what has been some of the feedback you’ve received from friends and colleagues who learned that you won the title?
A. Miss Black USA contestants have a reputation for bringing their A-game. So, I knew going in the competition was fierce and I needed to stand out. I trained with two vocal coaches to perfect my talent performance. I performed an Italian classical piece, Caro Mio Ben, and wowed the celebrity judges. I also joined a local club track and field team, training in sprints and high jump, which prepared my body for the fitness section. For the interview and on stage question portions of the pageant, I practiced by interviewing with my local media, watched youtube videos, and listened to pageant podcasts. I guess it worked. The feedback was overwhelming and it was a great feeling to receive so many texts, calls and messages from the entire state saying how much they believed in me.
Q. What are some of your skin care, beauty and fashion tips that you can share?
A. My go-to skin care products are Pretty Rx by Dr. Myla Bennett, which I won as part of my prize package. I try to keep my skin clear by cleansing and moisturizing daily. I never go to bed with make-up on and always, always use sunscreen (SPF). I also love Kimo Bentley All Natural Skin Care products, and am obsessed with their body butters. Lastly, fashion tips: I pair my entire wardrobe with Liliana footwear. They can do no wrong. I don’t purchase anything that I don’t love, I often purchase one item in at least two colors. For special occasions or red carpet, you’ll find me styled by Sparkle & Sass Dresses. I like to maintain a chic business casual look, never too much or too little of anything.
Q. How do you balance being the current Miss Black USA and your studies?
A. I am very organized and always include prep and chill time before and after an appearance. My education is a top priority. Miss Black USA is a partner in my education and very supportive and flexible with my schedule. I don’t accept any commitment that would negatively impact my academics.
Q. Have you met any people who are now near and dear to you since you entered the contest?
A. OMG. Yesss!!! The sisterhood and friendships are real at Miss Black USA. These women are lit. They are not your typical beauty queens. Eighty-percent are in graduate or professional school. Can you say Black Girl Magic! Three of the queens are practicing attorneys. To stand side-by-side women who are who’s who of their states and communities was everything. I never imagined that I would meet the Mayor of my city, Madison, WI, or the Governor of the state would be giving me a shout-out. It’s still like a dream. I have since become very close to my roomie, and sister queens Miss Black Texas, Miss Black Minnesota and Miss Black Colorado. I’m excited for the year ahead. Follow me on social media. IG @missblackusa Facebook @missblackusa Twitter @missblackusa