When Erica Bryant heard her name called Sunday, she could hardly believe her ears. She was humbled to receive the Leader of the Year Impact Award Saturday and to be crowned Miss Black America Coed 2018. It was a surprising honor, if a bit surreal.
While honored to be named MBAC, Bryant says she got a lot more out of it than a crown.
The 2006 Como-Pickton High School graduate says serving as Miss Black East Texas Coed the last few months and competing in and winning the Miss Black America Coed pageant have been a life-changing experiences that has made her a better, more compassionate person and leader. They provided life lessons she hopes to share with others.
Dedicating herself to the national Miss Black America Coed focuses of leadership, scholarship and community service changed her, Bryant noted. It bolstered her self-esteem, fostered a desire to be more selfless by serving others, an awareness of how one’s appearance and behavior impacts others, and more consciousness of the needs of others.
“It was a growing experience for me in terms of seeing humanity and helping as well. I’m naturally competitive by nature,” she explained. “I want to help. This showed me opportunities to be more compassionate. I started out doing community service and leadership activities for selfish reasons. Now, I am more compassionate and helpful. Instead of me trying to get a title, I was more into my service the more I served. It became less about me and more about being a positive example and helping others.”
During the pageant, a friend inspired her to find ways to do more to help in recovery efforts in her recently adopted home city of Houston. She received a text from a friend in Austin who was helping victims of Harvey by packaging welcome packs with a meal in them.
“I feel a responsibility … to do more. I’m driven to do more,” Bryant said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “I’m back in Houston. I’m looking for ways to volunteer and help people affected by the hurricane in my area. There are still areas under water. Homes were destroyed. I want to help those less fortunate.”
Over the last few months, she also learned there was much more to Miss Black East Texas and the Miss Black America Coed pageant than a beauty contest and competition.
“It was a great experience, one that taught me a lot about other people. Typically, when they think pageantry, people think it’s about beauty and competition,” Bryant noted. “Everybody was so supportive. There was no cattiness. We all supported each other.”
She cited the other titleholders’ willingness to stay two extra hours after practice to work with another contestant who was struggling with the dance moves required for one part of the MBAC contest, then spending time later that night to reassure her.
Bryant noted their willingness to help her when the zipper on her dress became stuck and wouldn’t close during the MBAC pageant.
The zipper eventually became unstuck, but the other contestants’ efforts Bryant noted are representative of the spirit of unity and friendship Miss Black American Coed strives to achieve — being supportive of one another instead of verbally tearing each other down.
She says her experiences have also made her more conscientious of the image she wants and will strive to present.
Her time as Miss Black East Texas Coed showed her that appearance and demeanor can unintentionally foster positive or negative impressions. She said she realized the way a woman looks, how she dresses, sits, the expression on her face, how she carries herself are all translated by others. What you do, she notes, should reflect who you are. That awareness inspires her to put more effort into how she does things, not just when she’s by herself or doing things for herself, but in all areas of her life.
“When you go in a room, people judge you before you open your mouth. They form a perception based on how you sit. You may not mean anything by not smiling, but people notice and may perceive it a certain way. I make an effort to smile. How you dress and look matters. That took with me. People are always watching,” Bryant said.
She noted that the awareness makes her strive to be more welcoming, to present a positive image and be a role model for other women and especially for young girls.
Miss Black America Coed National Assistant Director JC Goode credited Bryant’s outstanding leadership and impact on the community through the MBAC Charm School initiative for her being awarded the Leader of the Year Impact Award.
Goode noted that Bryant took the initiative launched by 2017 MBAC Roneshia Ray and adapted it to include her own literacy initiative. In doing so, not only did Bryant see an opportunity to mentor young girls but a way to promote literacy, increasing the reading level of each child and helping children realize their dreams by encouraging them to dream beyond their imagination, to erase self-doubt and increase self-love. The national platform encourages girls to think “I am” instead of “I’m not.”
Bryant held the a “Princess Party and Charm School” to teach girls ages 7-12 years to be more poised, confident and to better empower them to dream big and reach their potential. She said after seeing how positively the national pageant platform impacted young girls, she decided to host another as a means of positively mentoring even more young girls.
“She realized what it means to be a role model, that little eyes are looking up to her, wanting to be like her and do what she does. She takes it as an honor. She’s changed. In the role of Miss Black America Coed she sees opportunities for more and more service,” Goode said. “She did two charm schools and reached 70 girls.”
Bryant, through her continued community service at Houston Public Library, secured the venue for the charm schools she put on. She said some of those girls went on to compete in a pageant too. She was able to see the impact the charm school had on them, and then offer congratulations and encouragement.
Bryant said she hopes to put on more charm schools, to be able to reach more young girls, to help focus on their positive qualities and help them develop their confidence while also focusing on the literacy aspect. She wants them to realize they that it’s OK to be smart, to empower them to become very successful women.
“It’s not just literacy. It’s how you carry yourself. You have to dress for success if you want to have a good job. I want to do more workshops, to offer more strategies and to help them be more skillful,” she said.
Bryant said Roneshia Ray served as a positive role model for her, making her realize that during the pageant and in all of her goals, instead of comparing herself to others she should strive to be her personal best, to try to be better personally each time and be proud of that. She said in doing so, she did better at each following part of the pageant — it allowed her to shine, for people to see her for who she is.
“What I got out of it was be true to yourself and not worry what others are doing, what someone else is wearing; to do what is right for me. If you do, no one can take that away. I learned to work hard toward that, to work toward my best self, to put my best forward, not worrying about someone else,” Bryant said.
At the end of the contest, as each winner was announced, Bryant said she’d begun to think that perhaps she would not place overall, but said she was proud of her personal growth and effort.
And, that effort paid off when her name was the last one called Sunday — as the new 2018 Miss Black America Coed. She plans to continue to further literacy efforts through the non-profit It Takes a Village organization, MBAC Charm Schools and workshops to promote the national focus and volunteering wherever possible in her community.
To keep up with what Bryant is doing, check out the “missblackamcoed” on Instagram and Twitter, and “Miss Black America Coed” on Facebook.
SS Wildcats fans will want to be in their seats by 7 p.m. Friday night. There will be a special pre-game ceremony to celebrate the opening of Gerald Prim Stadium, along with a couple of special things planned that fans won't want to miss.
Members of the high school Key Club will also be ushering anyone needing help to find their seats, particularly for the reserved seating section. They will all be wearing yellow polo shirts for visibility.
Friday's game against Avalon School of Maryland is the first home high school game in the new Gerald Prim Stadium. Play begins at 7:30 p.m.MissBlackAmericaCoed