In pageantry, seeing women of color sparkle and shine just as bright as the embellishments on their evening gowns is heartwarming. This year, in the new Miss America 2.0 system, the first 2.0 queen crowned was Nia Franklin, a black woman representing New York. While she is contributing to the history of Black queens within Miss America’s history, there is another pageant system with a reigning queen who is also the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic.
PHOTO: Miss Black USA
Meet Miss Kelsi Horn: the reigning Miss Black USA. Horn hails from Detroit, Michigan and could be a future governor of her home state. In addition to being the face of the premier pageant for women of color, Horn is also a business owner, an advocate for mental health and a 2018 Forbes Fellow. This queen and agent of change is definitely on the move, but 21Ninety was able to catch up with her to learn more about her Forbes experience, being Miss Black USA and what she’s looking to conquer next:
21NINETY: You are doing so many incredible things and wear so many hats, so let’s start with the newest one. You recently attended the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit as a 2018 Forbes Fellow! Tell us how this came to be.
KELSI HORN: I have an awesome network of young professionals which includes a few past Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees and scholars. We always make a point to share opportunities that could be beneficial to one another. When Forbes announced its fellowship program, someone sent me the application and encouraged me to apply. On the application, I wrote about my civic involvement and my desire to empower other female entrepreneurs. Luckily for me, I was selected as a fellow out of thousands of applicants!
21N: This was also a great space for you to be in because you are an entrepreneur. Tell us more about your luxury event planning business and how you think the takeaways from the summit will help you grow in your personal business ventures.
KH: Attending the summit was a phenomenal learning experience as an entrepreneur. While I am passionate about event planning, I chose to attend sessions in a variety of industries. In the future, I hope to break into the tech industry and create an organization to help others build their businesses. I was able to speak one on one with venture capitalists, gain practical skills on how to grow and scale a company, and got advice from founders that grew million-dollar startups.
21N: As a woman of color, did you feel well represented at the summit in terms of other fellows, speakers and honorees?
KH: I think the Forbes Summit was successful at creating an inclusive event. I met attendees from all over the world including honorees from Forbes Africa. However, I would have loved to hear from more black female speakers. While everyone provided great content, the perspectives and experiences of black women are much different. Black women are starting businesses at unprecedented high rates but have less access to financial resources. I would’ve appreciated learning how women of color have found success while navigating industries that were not designed to benefit them.
21N: And speaking of being a woman of color, specifically a black woman, you are the reigning Miss Black USA! What has the experience been like for you so far?
KH: In these times that we live in, it’s been rewarding to see the excitement on people’s faces when I wear my crown and sash, especially little brown girls. Representation matters. Wearing the crown and title comes with a huge responsibility. I’m looking forward to using my title to empower millennials and voters in the upcoming elections, which are crucial in determining where we go from here. I’m thankful to be on this journey and have this opportunity. I hope that your readers will follow my journey and send me show me some love on social media @missblackusa.
21N: When you began your journey as Miss Black Michigan 2018, did you ever dream you would walk away with the ultimate crown? Have you always been a pageant gal?
KH: Most people are shocked to learn that I never competed in a pageant before I won this title. I applied to Miss Black Michigan in an effort to get out of my comfort zone and it resulted in me winning the title! Preparing for the national competition, I tried to just focus on doing my best in each category. Of course, I wanted to walk away with the crown, but I also wanted to give a performance that I was proud of. This took building both my on-stage skills and my own confidence. When I heard my state called as the new Miss Black USA, I was stunned. It was all surreal.
21N: There are many pageant systems in the U.S., so why was it important for you to partake in this particular pageant system? What sets Miss Black USA apart from the others in your opinion?
KH: I decided to partake in Miss Black USA because the mission aligned with my personal beliefs. Unlike other systems, the Miss Black USA organization celebrates the unique traits and beauty of women of color who come in all sizes, shades and hair textures. Any time you are part of a subculture, it’s important to have your own reward system. Miss Black USA sets its own standards of beauty and you don’t have to conform to archaic European standards of beauty or be a size zero. You can be you, unapologetically.
Miss Black USA is also the largest premier pageant for women of color, awarding over $500,000 in scholarships to date. Eighty-percent of our contestants are in graduate or professional school. We represent the “who’s who” of young women of color and a legacy of strong, intelligent and beautiful black women rarely showcased in mainstream media. It’s a movement that I’m proud to be a part of, and it extends beyond the U.S. borders into West Africa, where we have a library named in our honor.
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Yesterday I had the honor to participate in a 5K MILE walk for an amazing cause with the NAMI Walk Organization here in Detroit, Michigan. The NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) organization is geared towards raising awareness and advocacy for Mental Illness, fighting the stigmas surrounding mental health. #missblackusa #smashingstereotypes #blackgirlmagic #blackpageantqueens #activist #blackactivist #namiwalks #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness
21N: Coupled with your Miss Black USA reign is your commitment to activism and service. You are passionate about mental health and specifically eliminating the stigmas surrounding it. Why is this topic so important to you, and how have you and will you use your crown to bring attention to your platform?
KH: Three years ago, my best friend attempted suicide. I was completely blindsided because I had no indication that she needed help. After doing research on mental health in teens and young adults, I decided to take action targeted at suicide-prevention in the black community. I am also determined to address mental health in my own family , and I have since hosted programs on a college campus, spoke to teens in several mentoring organizations, and have participated in NAMI events to raise awareness. As Miss Black USA, I will continue to advocate and provide resources and information that can potentially save lives.
21N: While you hold some impressive titles, beneath it all you are Kelsi Horn: a Detroit native with unstoppable goals and a vision to impact those around you. Out of all of your recent experiences and those throughout your life, what is the greatest lesson you have learned about yourself thus far?
KH: The greatest lesson that I’ve learned is that my only competition is with myself. I’ve stopped questioning my abilities, comparing myself to others and thinking that some things are too big to accomplish. My future is dependent on my desire to make it happen. It may sound cliché, but I don’t think there is anything you can’t accomplish if you put your mind to it.
21N: For any younger women, or even older women looking for encouragement, how do you stay focused and encourage yourself to keep going?
KH: When I’m going through a tough situation, I remind myself that I’m always improving. Hard times are unpleasant but only temporary. From them you to learn, adapt, grow and prepare you for better opportunities.
PHOTO: Miss Black USA
21N: What’s next for Kelsi? What do you aspire to do next?
KH: Graduate school is definitely next on my list. I want to get into one of the nation’s top MBA Programs. I am currently in the process of applying to schools all across the country with plans to utilize a $5,000 scholarship that came along with the title of Miss Black USA
21N: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
KH: I want my reign to inspire people to pursue their passions. I want young brown girls to see themselves in me and be inspired to create the highest version of themselves. There are so many issues that are impacting young Black women and our community. I invite other ambitious sisters to join the Miss Black USA movement and showcase what it means to be a compassionate, confident and beautiful black woman today. Learn more at www.missblackusa.org.
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