What we’ve lost since the Miss Black El Paso Pageant ended in 2018


Former Miss Black El Paso 2016-17, Brianne Williams, standing with her "Happy Kwanzaa" float for the annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

I never imagined myself as the type of girl to compete in beauty pageants. I never really liked being in the spotlight.

However, from an early age, my mother just knew that one day I would be a contestant in the Miss Black El Paso pageant, walk across the stage, accepting my crown and sash. We argued about it for years. Finally I gave in and ran for Miss Black El Paso in 2016.

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For my talent, I tumbled on-stage, doing a round-off back handspring, played “Uptown Funk,” by Bruno Mars on the clarinet, and concluded with a praise dance to “You Are The Living Word,” by Fred Hammond.

In the introduction portion of the pageant, each contestant is given the opportunity to show the judges and the audience who they are, in their own unique way. As an aspiring journalist, I created a newspaper with a self-portrait and story, as if I had already won the pageant, for my introduction.

There were four different awards in the Miss Black El Paso competition including Miss Congeniality, second runner up, first runner up and queen.

In the end, I was crowned Miss Black El Paso 2016-17. My winnings included a crown, sash and $2,000 scholarship.

In the year of my reign, I attended many events throughout the city. The majority of events my mom and I booked ourselves.

Young Black girls would run up to me and hug me and each time I was reminded why this was so important. In a predominantly Hispanic city like El Paso there are not many Black pageant queens walking around. In these little girls’ eyes I was a hero.

As more and more people discovered there was an active Miss Black El Paso, I started being invited to more events.

Unlike other local pageants where queens are outfitted by local fashion boutiques for events, my wardrobe consisted of dresses, shoes and jewelry from my own closet.

The Miss Black El Paso Pageant did not have nearly enough media coverage, as other local pageants. In fact, if you do a Google search for it there are only a few listed articles, all of which are no longer than a couple of paragraphs in length.

In 2018, the final Miss Black El Paso queen was crowned. The Miss Black El Paso pageant stopped after that, ending a long tradition.

The annual Miss Black El Paso Pageant was founded in the early 1970’s by the late Leona Ford Washington and salon owner Estine Davis as a non-profit organization that awarded scholarships to young Black women to attend the college of their choosing.

The torch was passed year after year to the next young Black queen on the last Saturday in February to commemorate Black History Month.

After Washington’s passing in 2007, Juliet Hart partnered with Davis to continue the legacy of the Miss Black El Paso pageant. Hart passed away in 2022, that left Davis to run the pageant alone. Since retiring, Davis is saddened that no one has taken over where she left off in 2018.

“I wish somebody would start that up again. I can’t because I can’t drive no more,” Davis said. “If you want to start that up again, I can help. Call me. I don’t want no recognition. I’ll stay in the background. I just want to help you bring it back and make it bigger and better.”

A’Layjah Brown is the last to be crowned Miss Black El Paso in 2018. Shortly after winning, Brown left for The University of Texas at Austin

One of the most challenging aspect of the pageant was making it known and spreading awareness to the community that it exists.

An announcement via a Facebook post on the Miss Black El Paso page in 2018 encouraged young black women between 17-20 years old to meet at the McCall Neighborhood Center and bring their application. The post received only one like and one share. The Facebook page does not have a large following, only 71 followers as of November 2023. Other than an Instagram account, there are no other social media accounts or websites listed.

Black El Paso are often overlooked in community celebrations and recognitions.

“In El Paso, where it is predominantly Hispanic, it’s important to shine light on the young Black girls because they already get discriminated on,” said former Miss Black El Paso Traimaine Williams Smith (2008). “It’s important to showcase their talents, and that they are beautiful and worthy, no matter what their race is.”

As a former queen, I feel that it is important to bring back the Miss Black El Paso pageant for the small population that lives in the city.

The Miss Black El Paso pageant is a reminder that Black skin is beautiful and that we can achieve great things.

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