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Fourth time’s a charm for D.C.’s entry in Miss America pageant

(Published April 10, 2000)


Staff Writer

On the morning of March 25, Rashida Jolley awoke to a telephone call.

"Good morning, Miss D.C.," the voice on the other line said.

"I’m not Miss D.C. yet," Jolley responded.

Little did she know that hours later she would indeed be crowned and guaranteed a spot on the stage in the Miss America pageant.

While the 20-year-old has not gotten used to being Miss D.C. yet, she has come to know the feeling of waking up in the morning and wondering if this year will be the year she’ll be representing her city in the internationally televised pageant.

This was the fourth year in a row that Jolley competed to become Miss D.C. She said she’s dreamed of being in the Miss America pageant since she was a child. Four years ago her grandmother saw an ad for the Miss D.C. pageant in a newspaper and, while she didn’t make it very far that first year, each successive year she learned something new and improved herself and her performance, she said.

"This is the year I put everything I had into it," she said. And this was the year that her entire family – including her parents, four brothers, two sisters, two sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins – sat in the Wilson Senior High School auditorium to see her crowned. Also in the audience were her hairstylist and friends from school, she said.

Carole Bossard, Jolley’s cousin, said she watched her cousin in her first Miss D.C. pageant, but "something kept telling me she was going to win this year." She said she told Jolley for months that 2000 was going to be her year.

Miss D.C., as she is now known, is a third-generation Washingtonian, and when asked her position on statehood and full congressional representation, she threw her hands up.

"Taxation without representation," she said, shaking her head. Jolley said she supports statehood for the District.

Her family has not only lived in the District, but has contributed to it by working in the public schools and the police force, she said. Her grandfather was the first black reporter in the White House when he was working for the Washington Afro-American, she said.

She is a junior at Nyack College in Nyack, N.Y., with a double major in music and history. Before that, her parents home-schooled her in their house in the Petworth section of Northwest Washington while she also took courses at local universities.

Her mother Denise is a retired attorney and Jolley said she hopes to be an attorney, too, as well as a professional harpist. Her father Noble is a preacher, educator and musician, she said.

Jolley started playing the harp at age 10 and has played since, except for four years due to peer pressure – a hiatus she regrets very much, she said. She played her instrument in the talent portion of the Miss D.C. pageant.

(See PAGEANT, page 21)

Her love of music helped form her platform and reason for being in the Miss America pageant, she said. She wants to make people aware of a vital relationship she says not enough people are part of – that of senior citizens and youth through the arts.

But it’s much more than just a platform to Jolley, she said. Fostering a relationship between these oft-segregated groups through the arts is what she has been doing for the past three years and it has grown into a necessity for her being.

"I get too much out of it to call it volunteer work," she said.

(See PAGEANT, page 21)

Jolley will spend the summer working with various senior citizen centers including Friendship House in Southeast Washington. Before she competes in Atlantic City in October, Jolley will fulfill her role as Miss D.C. by speaking to students, performing with her harp and making other public appearances.

The money from such appearances goes directly into her scholarship fund from the Miss D.C. Scholarship Organization, a nonprofit group run by volunteers that raises the money from corporate donations, advertisements and tickets to the pageant. Each year the amount changes depending on how much is raised.

Betty Hemby is president and co-executive director of Miss D.C. Scholarship Organization, a franchise of the Miss America Organization. In 1989 the Miss D.C. franchise was discontinued, but Hemby lobbied for a few years to get it back, which she did in 1997.

This year the scholarship amount was $3,000 and Jolley will receive at least $3,000 for participating in the Miss America, and a $1,100 wardrobe award. She is also eligible for the Miss America quality of life scholarship of up to $10,000.

Hemby has run and volunteered at various local pageants. She is also a former contestant in the Miss American system as she competed in Miss Maryland locals in the early 1980s.

"A different generation competes now. When I competed I just enjoyed being in it," Hemby said. "But Miss America is a full-time and high-paying job — some girls were more goal oriented, while I enjoyed production aspect of it."

Reacting to a recent report that Miss America has gotten significantly thinner through the years, Hemby said that girls have become more fitness conscious. In the 1950s people were more plump than they are now.

"Miss America wants a healthy lifestyle," she said.

Jolley has been on a strict regiment of healthy eating and working out. But she allowed herself one week of indulgence after she won the Miss D.C. pageant. She said the night she won she celebrated by going out for pizza because she said she hasn’t had any for a year.

"For Miss America, I’m going to do Tae Bo every day," she said of the popular and rigorous exercise video. "It’s worth it in the end."

But the Miss America pageant is not about how well-toned your calves are or how pretty you are, she said. People think that the Miss America pageant is all about physical beauty, Bossard said. And while she used to think the same thing, ever since Jolley has been involved in the circuit she’s realized "it’s not about physical appearance, it’s about (Rashida) supporting her platform and helping other people," she said.

This year Jolley sported a red interview suit, a black evening dress, a gold dress for the talent segment and a one-piece yellow bathing suit in the Miss D.C. pageant. She said she wanted to wear things that expressed her personality and had bought all of her outfits over the last two years.

Jolley said she was not very nervous and just focused on having fun during this year’s contest. Backstage she said all the contestants gave each other massages, helped each other with clothes and make up, and prayed together.

"We all wanted the same thing – to be Miss D.C.," she said.

She said she considers herself "a representative of a group of winners" and feels that everyone in the pageant was like a sister. When Jolley competes in October it won’t be against eight close friends, but against 50 strangers. But she said she’s confident it won’t make a difference because "you only compete against one person – yourself."

Jolley’s court of honor included first runner-up Emilia Saunders, a senior at George Washington University; second runner-up Elisha Browder, a senior at Howard University; and third runner-up Diolinda Vaz, a sophomore at American University. The other semi-finalists were LaShon Seastrunk, a senior at Howard University; Lynette Collier, a senior at Banneker Senior High School; Heather Hegedus, a senior at Georgetown University; and Caroline John, a freshman at Georgetown University.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator