Six-day Miss Black USA event plans reincarnation in Miami
By Frank Norton
The Miss Black USA pageant plans to launch its national revival Aug. 18-23 from downtown Miami, organizers said.
The 17-year-old pageant lost luster in the late '90s but was acquired and resurrected in 2001 by Direct Communications, a marketing company.
Now under the stewardship of Executive Director Ingrid Owens, Miss Black USA 2003 will mark the event's first Miami incarnation and possibly set the stage for a longer-term relationship with the city.
The six-day event, due to culminate with the Aug. 23 pageant, is expected to draw about 800 out-of-state visitors and be broadcast nationally to more than 50 million households via syndication, Ms. Owens said. Details of the weeklong event are still being worked out, but the actual televised pageant is to take place at 1601 Biscayne Blvd., which beginning April 12 will change from Renaissance Miami Biscayne to Miami Biscayne Bay Hotel.
"Some people ask why in 2003 you would we even need a Miss Black USA and I think the answer is articulated right here in Miami," said Ms. Owens, a singer and former executive director of the Miss Black Missouri pageant.
"You have so many different cultures and peoples to celebrate," she said, referring to Miami's diverse array of ethnicities.
"It's a city that really recognizes and celebrates its cultural diversity and that's what enables us to celebrate all the nuances that make it unique and special," she said.
Event organizers said a three- to five-year contract awaits a decision by the Miami City Commission, which is expected to vote on the issue April 10.
"Every opportunity we have to highlight our city and showcase our diversity on national television is a major positive," said Mayor Manny Diaz, noting the city may extend cash incentives or in-kind services to secure a long-term contract with pageant organizers.
The Miss Black USA Foundation, which runs the pageant as well as community education programs, was created in 1986 to celebrate positive images of African-American women. Today that means assisting in voter education and building awareness on health and other issues that disproportionately affect African-American women.
Organizers skipped the pageant last year to focus on restructuring the event.
"Miami wasn't even part our original bid process for this year but we got quite a bit of feedback from people here that wanted the city to be considered," Ms. Owens said.
One such Miami advocate was Barbara Howard, a board member of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and now a consultant to the event.
Ms. Howard, who grew up in rural Alabama, said modern Miami symbolizes the American dream for black immigrants worldwide more closely than any other US city.
"While blacks from this country might see Miami as the land of oppression," she said, "black people from abroad see this as the land of milk and honey. It's the place to be."
"New York can brag as the great melting pot," she said, "but only Miami has that diaspora of nationalities that many people still don't think of as black. We've got Cubans, Jamaicans, Haitians and Brazilians - such beautiful women."
Black heritage venues that could figure into the six-day celebration could include Coconut Grove's Bahamian neighborhood, Martin Luther King Boulevard and the Lyric Theatre in Overtown, Ms. Howard said, noting this year's event is critical to setting the stage for future success.
"I compare the resurrection of Miss Black USA to the rising of the phoenix from the ashes of what was a dying pageant," Ms. Howard said. "I said the only place to do that is in Miami, the place 156 nationalities call home. This as an opportunity to bring to the poorest city in America a vehicle to show young black girls the door to the world."
Miss Black USA's current titleholder is Lisa Miree, 25, of Ohio, who won in 2001 in Birmingham, AL.