ABOVE PHOTO: The newly crowned winner of the 2023-24 Juneteenth Scholarship USA Pageant, Sunshine Huggins gives a big smile.
By Napoleon F. Kingcade
For most of the evening, the rain came down in buckets as predicted by the meteorologists. But despite the weather, the 4th Annual National Miss Juneteenth USA Scholarship Pageant held a successful event at the Double Tree Hilton Hotel located near the Philadelphia International Airport.
According to Sylvia Lewis-Harris, executive director of the Miss Juneteenth USA Scholarship Pageant, the competition is open to female high school students from 15-18 years old. It should not be mistaken for a beauty pageant, she said.
“It’s a cultural pageant that is designed to promote sisterhood, unity, self-confidence and social awareness,” Lewis-Harris said. “The pageant is an educational and scholarship program that focuses on community services, education and cultural awareness. The Juneteenth pageant has been held for several years in several states, including Delaware, Colorado, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas. Our mission is [to] elevate urban youths in their pursuits of scholastic achievement on a national platform.”
The event was filled to capacity, despite the inclement weather. In less than 30 minutes, the huge crowd of spectators wildly celebrated the event with signs and large billboards. One spectator held up a blow horn blasting his voice across the room. As strong supporters, they all sang for their loved ones competing on the national stage.
This year’s competition featured 10 contestants from around the country. Each contestant competes on the national stage after winning a crown in their home state. The participants began this year’s event with a dance performance and a musical tribute to Juneteenth’s history.
The contestants also participated in a talent and formal wear competition.
Afterwards, each contestant walked to center stage and answered a Juneteenth-related question.
Madison Corzine, the outgoing Miss Juneteenth USA 2022, chose and asked the questions.
At the end of the competition, Corzine delivered an emotional farewell message to the audience. It would be in a matter of minutes before she would have to hand over the crown to the new National Miss Juneteenth USA queen. She then gave her blessings to the next Miss Juneteenth crown winner who would take her place
During her reign as Miss Juneteenth USA 2022 queen, Corzine was the inaugural winner of the Michelle Obama Award for Memoir and earned over $80,000 worth of scholarship money. She helped many people and a number of organizations. As a graduate of Timber Creek High School in Fort Worth, Texas, Corzine is now a freshman at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
During a brief break at the pageant, an awards ceremony in the talent category was held for Little Miss Juneteenth winner Shyann Faye and Little Miss Juneteenth first runner up Camryn Butts. Meantime, Junior Miss Juneteenth Maliha Simmons of Philadelphia was also named as a big winner in the talent competition.
The announcement of the crowning of the new Miss Juneteenth USA queen was made by the Inaugural National Miss Juneteenth Saniya Gay. Once the five judges cast their votes, everyone was ready to hear the top three contestants for the 2023-24 Miss Juneteenth title. After the drum roll, the 2nd runner up, Miss Juneteenth Tennessee winner Mendy Jean Pettigrew, was announced.
A 16-year-old junior at Humboldt High School in Humboldt, Tennessee, Pettigrew is the captain of her varsity cheerleading squad, a participant in the BETA Club, Superintendent Counsel, Color Guard, HOSA and the Spanish Club.
As a student, she is recognized by the prestigious National Society of High School Scholars, the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists.
Outside of school, Mendy Jean is a certified lifeguard in her community. She is passionate about teaching children in her community about swim safety and how to swim. She also serves as an active member of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in the outreach ministry and the Delta Gems Academy. Currently, Mendy Jean looks forward to graduating in the top five of her class and attending Vanderbilt University.
As a plus-size young woman, she lives by the powerful words of Stacey Abrams, “When people doubt your right to be somewhere, the responsibility falls on you to prove over and over again that you deserve to be there.”
The first runner-up, Miss Juneteenth Texas winner Madison Swain, was then announced.
Swain is a 2023 graduate of Texas City High School where she graduated in the top ten percent of her class maintaining a 4.0 GPA during her four years in high school. In 2021, Swain was inducted into the National Honor Society and the following year into the National Technical Honor Society. She was also named a UIL Athletic Scholar.
During high school, Madison was a four-year member of the Varsity Stingarette Drill Team, serving as the first sophomore lieutenant. She went on to become lieutenant colonel in her junior year. She also became colonel of the Stingarette Drill Team in her senior year. Madison led the first officer line at Texas City High School, and as colonel, she led the team to their first grand champion officer title and grand champion team title.
After school, Madison is an active youth member of Westward Church of Christ. She is the recipient of the Latacha H. Coleman Foundation Award for being a good representation of a Christian teenager.
In June 2023, Madison won the title Miss Juneteenth Galveston County Ambassador. In July, she was crowned as the first Miss Juneteenth Texas USA. Madison has been recognized and presented with official resolutions from Mayor Detrick Johnson of Texas City and Mayor Craig Brown of Galveston County, Texas.
The winner of the 2023-24 Juneteenth Scholarship USA Pageant is the 2023 Inaugural Miss Juneteenth Virginia queen, Sunshine Huggins. Huggins is 17-years-old and is currently a rising senior at Smithfield High School in Smithfield, Virginia. She was crowned Miss Juneteenth Virginia on June 19 in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Huggins plans to attend Norfolk State University, majoring in music therapy. In addition, she wants to start her own business teaching children how to play the harp. Her harp playing expertise was on display during the pageant when she performed a beautiful rendition of the Alicia Keys song, “I Ain’t Got You.”
Huggins said she was really nervous before playing the song on stage.
“I’m very confident, but I have terrible stage fright,” she said. “When I got on stage, I kept telling myself ‘You know this song, just play it the way you remember it,’ and I did exactly that. I said to myself, “Please let me win this pageant.” I kept praying and praying and it worked.”
In addition to winning the 2023-24 Juneteenth National USA Scholarship pageant competition, Sunshine brought home three awards after winning Miss Black Wall Street, Black Talent for playing the harp and Miss Congeniality. Sunshine was also stunned when she received an all-expense paid trip to Africa.
“We did it, we did it, Virginia!” Huggins exclaimed. “I put so much work into this. I knew I had to bring this title back home to Virginia because of how much money that people put into me. My hometown told me, right! I had to bring it home for them since they paid the money for the ads, the sponsorship and the dresses. I feel I had to repay them. I’m so proud of myself and my state.”
As the event came to an end, Sylvia Lewis-Harris gave thanks to all the sponsors, including Discover, Pretty Girls Cook, I Am Now Organization, The Dress Matter and Doubletree by the Hilton, for making the pageant a great success. For information about becoming a sponsor or to make a donation, visit: www.missjuneteenth.org.