When I won my first local title in 2009 (Miss Chicago), I could only think about getting to State to compete for Miss Illinois. I did what every girl in my situation does: I drove everyone around me utterly insane. I looked for the perfect swatch of magenta for my swimsuit. I examined the caloric intake of baby carrots. I wondered how the top layer of chiffon would flow if I turned 90 degrees in my evening gown instead of 72.
You know, the normal stuff.
Two months later, the State competition came and though I made the Top 10, my countdown didn’t result in the crown. I left the competition with some scholarship money, a slightly bruised ego, and my good old local title. I remember holding my one tier (local) crown in my hands and thinking, “Geesh, now what?” 
To be honest, I knew that many girls disappeared after losing at State and thrust themselves into training for next year’s competition cycle. But I didn’t have one crucial luxury that most of my contemporaries had: time. I had started the Miss America program at 22 years old and thus was older than most of the other women. This knowledge made me hesitant, unconfident in the purpose of coming back. It also made it very difficult to figure out what I was going to do with the 8 months I had left as Miss Chicago.
 I was faced with two choices: I could either become the lovechild of Carmen San Diego and Where’s Waldo and disappear… or, I could do something with the opportunity that I had been given. It was then that I realized that a local title was more than just a means to an ends. I hadn’t won big at State, but I could enhance my reign as a local titleholder. And more importantly, I could enhance my character as a person.
Admittedly, I’m sure I drove everyone around me crazy all over again, but I was passionately committed to being as visible and accessible to my community as I possibly could, especially Chicago’s South and West sides, which don’t get much exposure to pageants or their benefits.
And in this process, I will have to say something beautiful happened: the more places I went, the more people and community leaders I met. I was soon being called to make appearances at parades, to speak to youth groups, and to appear on local television stations. I made myself available and my community was more than eager to welcome me.
So you’ve got your title and State is over… what next? Try some of these tips to make your year 365 days that all your friends can envy!
1)      Neighborhood and Community Print Media- Think nobody reads the Mom and Pop papers? Think again. The city-wide paper may not be interested in such a “small” story, but the neighborhood publisher is just dying to feature you.
2)      Drop by your alderman’s office- You want to be in that 4th of July parade, right? Well, your local alderman has the contacts that you need. Best of all, they usually have a community night that you can crash in your crown and sash. I didn’t mean to make that rhyme either :/
3)      Local restaurants love you- How often does anyone in a tiara stop by the neighborhood deli? Ummm, never. You better drop by and get a free sandwich.
4)      Give out literature on yourself/ your platform to local businesses and for goodness sakes, sign it! I have a photo in my neighborhood dry cleaner now just because I was thoughtful. It helps their business to hang it up on their wall and helps to get your face out there to the community.
5)      Branch out and do other activities during your year. – A one- show- pony is cool, but everyone loves the three- ring- circus. I’m not telling everyone to go my route and be a cheerleader while they have their local title, but most pageant girls have diverse interests. Develop the others while you are in your reign and see how you can make them correlate. And then go back to Step #1.

Imani Josey

Imani is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. After graduating Howard University in Washington, DC, Imani received her Masters from Northwestern University. Sometime during all of that studying, she danced professionally for the Chicago Bulls as a (Luvabulls) cheerleader, and won the titles of Miss Chicago and Miss Cook County for the Miss America Organization, as well as Miss Black Illinois USA. Read her short story “North” in the forthcoming Hidden Youth anthology, out November 2016 by Crossed Genres.

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