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Through the Viewfinder: Self-confidence on display in Miss Blue and Gold pageant

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Destinee Schoby, 14, and Danvashia Wiley, 14, watch 15-year-old Nakeyia Riggs, right, apply make-up to Destiny Lyles, 15, while Kiana Jones curls 16-year-old Morgan Ray’s hair before the start of the pageant. Thirteen girls competed for the title of Miss Blue and Gold 2013-14.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Destinee Schoby, 14, and Danvashia Wiley, 14, watch 15-year-old Nakeyia Riggs, right, apply make-up to Destiny Lyles, 15, while Kiana Jones curls 16-year-old Morgan Ray’s hair before the start of the pageant. Thirteen girls competed for the title of Miss Blue and Gold 2013-14.

NATCHEZ — In the band room of Natchez High School, the 13 contestants in the Miss Blue and Gold pageant formed a circle holding each other’s manicured hands with their heads bowed in prayer.

As the prayer concluded, one of the pageant founders, Chiquita Gaylor, brought the girls in closer.

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Fifteen-year-old Nakeyia Riggs, left, and 16-year-old Shamarra Grover compete in the casual wear portion of the Miss Blue and Gold pageant Friday evening at Natchez High School.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Fifteen-year-old Nakeyia Riggs, left, and 16-year-old Shamarra Grover compete in the casual wear portion of the Miss Blue and Gold pageant Friday evening at Natchez High School.

“OK girls, when I count down from three, I want y’all to say ‘pretty girls rock,’” Gaylor said as she held out her hand ready to count. “One, two, three.”

Of the 13 girls, three or four shouted, much to the disappointment of Gaylor.

“Oh that was pathetic,” Gaylor said. “Come on, one more time.”

By the time Gaylor said ‘three’ all 13 girls joined in with shouts.

“That’s much better,” Gaylor said. “Y’all look so pretty, good luck girls.”

For Gaylor, Delilah Mitchell, Kiwanis Barnes and Erika Bowman, starting the Miss Blue and Gold pageant in 2010 was a way to help high school girls with self-confidence.

“We wanted the pageant to build the self esteem for our young ladies, which is so important,” Barnes said. “And it’s a positive thing for the girls to work on.”

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Miss Blue and Gold 2014-15 Taylor Fry, 15, poses for photos at the end of the pageant Friday evening at Natchez High School.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Miss Blue and Gold 2014-15 Taylor Fry, 15, poses for photos at the end of the pageant Friday evening at Natchez High School.

For a month, the girls practiced a choreographed dance as a group and spent time working on a talent to present at the pageant.

Whether singing, dribbling a basketball or reciting a poem, self-confidence was evident in each girl’s performance.

Reading poems in front of approximately 85 people in the school’s auditorium, with titles like “I love Black Women” and “I Am Me,” freshman Yasmine Phipps and sophomore Morgan Ray demonstrated the self-esteem building Gaylor, Barnes, Mitchell and Bowman hoped for.

“Every girl gets a chance to shine,” Bowman said backstage. “In turn, their self-esteems grows and they become more comfortable in front of people.”

For 16-year-old Jasper Minor, the pageant helped build her confidence.

“I used to be really shy,” Jasper said. “But the pageant helped break me out of my shell by learning from the pageant directors and the other girls that I’m beautiful.”

After Miss Blue and Gold 2013-14 Kiana Jones crowned 15-year-old Taylor Fry the 2014-2015 Miss Blue and Gold, all of the girls remained on stage to congratulate each other and pose for photos.

“The bonding between the girls is exciting for me to see,” Barnes said. “Some of these girls never met each other before the pageant, and now they help and cheer on each other. It promotes a positive image for the younger girls.”