By Reza Corinne Clifton
(This article appeared in The Providence American Newspaper)
Rhode Island’s Black community received another boost recently when on August 7 the first RI delegate competed in the Miss Black USA 2005 Scholarship Pageant. Running on the platform of Building Wealth and “standing on the shoulders of [Brown University’s] President Ruth Simmons” Cleshonda Ann Reddick is the state’s first Miss Black RI.
Ann—as she prefers to be called—moved to Providence a little over six months ago from Florida to check out the area before pursuing a Master of Administration-Finance degree at the University of Rhode Island. Familiar with the pageant and scholarship program, which has been in existence since 1987, Ann applied not knowing whether or not she would become a delegate.
Satisfied with the “small, intimate size” of URI’s College of Business Administration and settling in as the owner and manager of a mortgage net branch company, Ann discovered that there had never been a RI delegate to the Miss Black USA pageant. “How great would it be to be the first,” she thought upon hearing the news. But it was more than that.
Ann has always been committed to and actively engaged in community service—for example through tutoring and involvement within church—but as a new resident of RI, she explains, she was “looking for something to bring to the community.” Her motivations altered, though, as she began investigating RI’s African-American community.
Before moving here, Ann admits, she, like other African-Americans she knew, was very unfamiliar with the Black community and organizations in RI. Residing in the same state as the first Black woman to lead an Ivy League University (Simmons), meeting with members of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) and Urban League, attending programs at the Providence Black Repertory Company, dialoguing with people at the RI Black Heritage Society, and reading The Providence American Newspaper, Ann realized that her task was to be more than bringing the pageant to the community.
“There are lots of positive things going on here that I want to bring attention to. I want to get RI recognized as a state that has and supports the African-American community…I want people outside of RI to know what’s going on with the African-American community. There are organizations, newspapers…and people don’t realize it.”
Yet Ann’s involvement in the pageant has also meant a confrontation with some of the challenges the RI Black community faces. With a platform of Building Wealth and a background and educational goal in business, acquiring local sponsorship should have come easily. It did not, though, and most of it came from out of state. Still Ann pushes the message:
“It is important for the furtherance of our Black Communities to be better aware of finances. Building wealth is not about being rich or extremely wealthy, but being debt-free and financially independent; being familiar and practicing and managing your taxes. It’s good for people to have homeownership and important to support entrepreneurship.”
The pageant is done and even though Ann was not crowned Miss Black USA, another challenge awaited her upon return. On September 3 at 9:00 PM, the Black Family Channel, a service of Comcast digital cable will air the pageant. It is channel 235 in Massachusetts…but there is no RI equivalent.
Ann was among the twenty-five contestants recognized by Washington, DC mayor Anthony Williams for the more than one million dollars raised for the pageant’s official charity—the Children’s Miracle Network. From Monday August 1 through Sunday August 7, she endured the busy 5:00 AM to midnight schedule, and confidently completed the question and answer, fitness, and evening gown portions. Yet as of right now, RI’ers will not be able to view their first Miss Black USA representative in action.
This has not deterred Ann trying to bring it all back to RI, though. She is in contact with the national office trying to acquire a finished copy of the taping, and she is currently looking and “calling places like Cox Cable and PBS to try to have it aired.”
Plus, she’s spreading the news: besides the scholarship, “this was an opportunity to network with a diverse group of black women with similar career goals—some wanting to be attorneys, some seeking PhD’s [and past participants who became singers, actors and more]. It was a good opportunity and definitely an excellent way to network with African-American women. This is one great thing I took away from the pageant.”
Reza Corinne Clifton is a community organizer for RI Children’s Crusade for Higher Education on the Providence High School Redesign project. She is also a freelance writer whose articles can be seen in “The [weekly] Minority Family Perspective,” the Providence American Newspaper and at rezaritesri.com