When I was Miss Cook County, I did an appearance at a muckety-muck fundraiser in downtown Chicago. We were wrapping up when a middle-aged man approached my director and I holding this humongous color photo of me, wanting an autograph. I automatically felt uneasy. I didn’t know this guy from paint and (because I am a Virgo), I also noticed a few other things. Firstly, he wasn’t holding one of my promo pictures that I brought to sign at appearances. He was holding a picture I would use for print interviews. Thus, he had to have Googled me, found the picture from a random article through the search, blew it up, and color printed it to have it ready for the appearance. So, that meant he was prepping for a second, and for a middle-aged man, that was pretty friggin creepy.
It was a weird, awkward moment for everyone there, and my director and I found a quick exit, without engaging the guy and without signing the photo.

Safety-wise, being a titleholder is more tricky than given credit. You’re not Beyonce or the Duchess of Cambridge, so you won’t have any security detail. Buuuuuuut, you are visible and visibility registers a certain vulnerability (I wasn’t trying to do an Al Sharpton rhyme, Scouts Honor). This especially comes to play if you are a titleholder without a State or National title (and without a camp to back you up). So what are you supposed to do? I thought about some of my experiences and came up with ten simple ways to keep yourself safe when you are headed to your pageant appearances and carrying out the duties of your title. Grab your pens!

1) Have a point of contact.
This could be your director, or if you don’t have one, it could be your mom or a friend. Have someone intercept appearance requests on your behalf as well as make the arrangements. This person will help you weed out any appearances that may not be advisable, and signals that you have people that are looking out for you.

2) Research the organization.
Make sure that it is a refutable organization and/or event that you are making an appearance for. Quick Google searches are AMAZING. Sometimes people contact you with over-hyped events. Research before accepting. You don’t want to end up at somebody’s cousin’s this- that- or the other in your crown and sash because they said it would be the biggest charity ball of the year.

3)Never go to a meeting or appearance alone, and let someone know that you are going.
Have your director, family member, etc. present. Aside from the physical safety aspect, there’s a legal safety aspect as well (i.e., if you are meeting about some sort of contract). Don’t sign anything without a trusted person present, particularly a trusted person who is a lawyer.

4)See the location before the appearance.
Try to explore the locations beforehand if you can. Drive by it. Take a tour. If it’s in an area you don’t feel safe in, etc., it’s better to know before hand as opposed to when you arrive. Taking me to my next point…

5)If you feel uncomfortable at an appearance for any reason, bounce.
Trust your instincts. I was watching the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo the other weekend, and (without spoilers) the essential bad guy lured the essential good guy (Daniel Craig) into a treacherous situation. When the bad guy was successful in his trap, he taunted Craig by saying that he didn’t even have to use any brute force to lure him in. All he had to do was invite him kindly, and though they both knew Craig felt threatened, he went with him anyway because he didn’t want to offend him. I thought this was interesting. As a beauty queen going to appearances at locations you may not be familiar with, don’t be like the movie’s protagonist. Sure, the organizer (or whoever called you) went through a lot of trouble to invite you. Sure, he or she may have advertised that you were coming. But when that little voice in your head says, “Run like hell…”, don’t worry about not seeming appreciative or burning bridges. Get out of there, and get out of there FAST. 

6)Have a reliable means of transportation there and back.
If you don’t have a car, borrow someone’s car. Have taxi money. Or make sure the appearance organizers cover your transportation costs (very reasonable request if this is an unpaid appearance… which most of them will be). 

7) Do not publicize your appearance until AFTER you’ve done it. 
I see this on Facebook and Twitter all of the time. “I’m so excited to be at this place, at this time! Glad you know where I am!” Sometimes you have to do some advertising for an event, but if you can help it, avoid doing any publicizing until it’s been completed. When you’re done, post of all of the details and pictures! But be mum beforehand. You want to avoid letting people you don’t know that you will be at a certain place at a certain time.

8)Have personal and public social media accounts.
People have laughed at me for years for having multiple accounts. Yes, it is a bit of a headache to maintain, but it’s easier to monitor what content gets to what people. Have locked accounts for your personal life and have open accounts for pageant business. On your business account, don’t post a lot of personal information. Make sure your personal accounts are unsearchable. If you want them to connect, YOU can friend them.

9)Monitor your new friends, followers, likes, and commentators.
They always say that there are signs when things may go awry. These little activities, though seemingly harmless, can be bread crumbs to untoward motives. Monitor who is actively participating on your profile. If something feels wrong, don’t hesitate to block or de-friend.

10) Don’t film in, at, around, or near your home, school, or workplace.
Don’t make it easy for anyone to figure out exactly where you are. And if you do have to film within your personal space, use a backdrop. They really aren’t that expensive.

BONUS!
11) Have a contract! 
This is a legal safety matter that we touched on a bit at the beginning of the post. But make sure you have your exact expectations, obligations, and payment agreement in writing. That’ll be another blog;)

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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