On Saturday, January 31 the UrbanPromise Auditorium in Camden NJ will be transformed briefly into Boardwalk Hall as seventeen 14-18 year old girls take their turn on the stage and their chances at being crowned “Miss Promise.” The evening will be complete with gowns, talent competition, song and dance like the other, famous Atlantic City contest, but organizer Aleisha Dudley is clear, it is “More than a Beauty Pageant.”
“It is not a night to crown someone who is the most beautiful.” she said of the pageant, in its second year. “But a chance for all the girls to see themselves as beautiful. The goal is to build confidence, and the confidence comes as they walk across the stage.”
This year’s contestants either attend UrbanPromise Academy or participate in UrbanPromise’s StreetLeader Program, which for twenty years has employed Camden-area teens as mentors to younger children in the program. One hundred percent of the StreetLeaders, graduate from high school and overwhelmingly attend college. Dudley, 26, is among the success stories, having been a StreetLeader at 15 and returning to work at UrbanPromise, while taking classes at Camden County College. “I stayed close to UrbanPromise,” she said “because being a StreetLeader meant so much.”
Dudley came up with the pageant idea last year as a way to build confidence and self esteem in Camden’s young girls. “Pageants aren’t exactly my thing—but I knew we had to do it.”
Last year, remembered Dudley, the girls were reluctant to walk across the stage, get their hair done and even wear a gown, but the contest turned out to be so fun and rewarding that this year’s girls are “ready to go. “Nobody misses practice.”
She has an important helper this year—last year’s Miss Promise Stef Rodriguez, a 17-year-old high school junior from Pennsauken, who wants to attend Rutgers University and eventually be a teacher. “Last year, she made us walk in high heels—I never walked in high heels! She was saying smile, make eye contact—teaching us all of these things,” recalled Rodriguez. The girls had to submit an application with an essay, take an etiquette class and practice public speaking. They had to do an evening gown competition, an interview on stage and come up with a talent and work together on opening and closing acts.
“It may not seem like a big deal, but it was a lot of work. Not just the walking and the dresses and the talent—but building and find confidence. For some of us, it was a lot of work to feel beautiful.”
Rodriguez is excited to crown the new Miss Promise on Saturday night—she will place a tiara on her head and present her with a $500 scholarship. Awards will go to the other contestants as well and the event will help raise money for the 7th Annual Street Leader girls’ retreat and camping trip in May. Rodriguez is looking forward to the big night. “It has been an amazing experience getting to know the girls and seeing them get more confident.” It is a transformation she knows firsthand. “Being in the pageant turned us upside down—it made us see things in ourselves that we hadn’t noticed otherwise,” she said, adding that it will be a new crown going to the 2015 winner. Like the lessons she learned as last year’s winner, the crown is hers to keep.
When: Saturday, January 31, 2015, 8:00-9:30 PM
Where: UrbanPromise Main Campus
3700 Rudderow Street
Pennsauken, NJ 08110
Tickets: $10 at the door