Angie: Today we are going to meet a woman who seeks to reach women on some very intense issues. I admire her work very much and would like to invite you along on her journey. When I mentioned in previous posts that these queens are passionate about their purpose, LaQuisha is a perfect example. I hope this interview encourages and empowers you.
Introducing LaQuisha Hall, Mrs. Maryland Galaxy 2009.
How did you learn about pageants?
LaQuisha: I became very outraged being a non-pageant volunteer and witnessing people telling me that they did not need information on sexual abuse. After sharing with a friend that every person has either experienced sexual abuse or they know someone who has, she tried to help me come up with a way to make people stop and listen. She suggested pageantry and all I can say now is she was right! For some reason, people stop when they see a sparkly crown.
Angie: I agree. (Not only about pageants giving women a voice, but I call my crown a sparkly too :-) ) What is your platform?
LaQuisha: Specifically, my platform is Stop the Silence! Sexual Abuse Education & Support, which presents a two-pronged approach—educating the public about the realities of sexual abuse and supporting survivors through the recovery process. However, growing up in a violent home, I also advocate for victims of domestic violence, depression, suicide, low self-esteem, etc. A lot of issues encompass surviving a terrible crime like sexual abuse.
Angie: How do you build your platform and promote your work?
LaQuisha: I contacted several organizations that work on behalf of ending violence against women and requested volunteer work. No one has turned me down yet!
Angie:Why did you decide to compete?
LaQuisha: Again, my purpose in even attempting to win a pageant is use the celebrity of being a “queen” to inform people of the issues of sexual abuse. I was actively volunteering before pageantry, as a county titleholder and now as Mrs. Maryland Galaxy. If I never compete again, I will continue to spread this very important message.
Angie:Was this your first pageant?
LaQuisha:This was my second time competing in the Maryland Galaxy pageant system. Prior to winning this pageant, I also competed in the Christian International, Maryland United States and Maryland International system.
Angie: Was/is competition scary?
LaQuisha: I would say it is more nerve-wrecking than scary! There is so much preparation that goes into a pageant and all you can really think about is whether you have it all together! Leaving important items home that I needed for a pageant and tripping onstage are my biggest fears.
Angie: Oh I took care of that for you when I tripped on stage in the Mrs. International pageant. ;-) I do hear that a lot though, the fear of falling on stage. I have to say it isn't as bad as the fear of it is. What personal fear did you have to overcome?
LaQuisha: Pageantry was supposed to open the door to getting others to hear my message: sexual abuse is a worldwide, common and damaging issue. Thus far, I perceived pageantry to work. Not only have other queens been informed, but so has my community and (I pray soon) the world... I have talked about my experience as a survivor so much that I figured that was how people would think of and remember me... a survivor...
Well, not so. People heard me, but saw that I am very thin. I have shared that the sexual abuse almost caused my death, caused me to become depressed for many years, caused divisions in my family, caused me the genuine mother-daughter relationship I longed for throughout my life... I almost died because I blamed myself for something I could not control: a grown man and pastor, a member of my family. Now, it seems I am being blamed, again, for something I cannot control... However, I am not blaming myself... others are blaming me without knowing me. It seems that the only lasting memory I was able to leave in the minds of many “queens” in the pageant world was my weight. So now, I hate to wear a swimsuit on stage!
This fear truly disheartens me because queens are supposed to be sweet, beautiful public servants that little girls want to be like when they grow up. Who wants to be a like a grown woman who ridicules others about their size when young people are ridiculing each other every day?
Angie: This is exactly the kind of thing I like about you. That you are who YOU are and not someone else. We need to respect the person and not be fixated on body type. It's the deeds and healthy living, not the dress size that matters. What about your first competition, were you super confident?
LaQuisha: I was confident during the Mrs. Christian International pageant because I do not feel I was determined to win, but rather have a good experience. This was the first time I shared my story to an audience about my abuse. I was nervous about my impact as I could hear a pin drop in the room after finally admitting it. However, I was encouraged afterwards by how many people told me that I gave them strength by sharing my story. Oh, and I won the pageant!
Angie: Awesome! This is a theme that's emerging with the queens. Those who win tend to be more focused on enjoying themselves than on beating the other competitors. What did you have to learn to compete?
LaQuisha: I had to learn to be myself. I had to present myself to judges in a way that portrayed me. I also had to learn to ignore the women who put me down because they still needed to heal from something themselves.
Angie: You just hit on a crucial issue. We cannot internalize someone else's problem and perceive it to be our own. Tell us about what you have been able to do as Mrs. Maryland Galaxy 2009:
LaQuisha: Oh goodness, where do I begin? While the Galaxy pageant system is not a “platform” pageant, I have definitely been able to promote my platform. I have raised money for the cause of violence against women, spoken out to hundreds of people through all types of conferences and media. I also believe that I have empowered youth by being a role model to girls who have low self-esteem, showing them that they can be anything they want to be. I currently have a student in my English class who is also very thin. She came to me after getting to know me and asked me how I deal with people calling me “skinny”. I told her I don’t: I just uplift others so that maybe they can look past the “skinny” and see my heart. This encouraged her and now she dresses up more frequently and she is now a member of Queendom, the nonprofit I started to increase the self-esteem of teen girls. This example alone is a great achievement for me!
Angie: LaQuisha, you just warmed up my heart! Please tell us about a goal, why it's been a goal, and what it means to you?
LaQuisha: A realistic goal is spreading Queendom: Empowering the Lives of Young Ladies nationally. I am currently working with a few people who want to help with this goal. I started this group in 2008 and I have seen it transform the lives of teen girls. This is my way of helping young girls in a way that I feel I was not: receiving the advice and instruction of a motherly figure.
An unrealistic goal (because this subject is so taboo) is getting teal sexual abuse ribbons on merchandise in addition to pink breast cancer ribbons. I truly believe that it does not benefit a five year-old child to read about breast cancer statistics on their cereal box. However, if they are being touched inappropriately by an adult, seeing a phone number on a teal ribbon would.
Angie: Honestly, I don't think that is so unrealistic. Some work, but not unrealistic. Go LaQuisha! What do you still want to achieve?
LaQuisha: I am currently working on my PhD. I just want to finish it!
There's an idea in society that pageants are just skin deep. How would you answer that?
LaQuisha: Unfortunately, I would agree that many are. Even in pageants where platform is pushed, the winner is ridiculed if she is not the “most beautiful” woman on the stage. However, it is also true that there are many women who follow the heart and mind of God and will do whatever it takes to support their community, which in my opinion makes them beautiful in every possible way.
Angie: The media has given Americans the idea that pageant girls/women are not intelligent and accomplished. What kind of an education do you have?
LaQuisha: In 2003, I received an English/ Pre-Law degree from Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. In 2006, I received a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Morgan State University in Maryland. I am currently working on a doctoral degree from Walden University in Teaching Leadership. So, hopefully by the time I am 30 years old, I will be referred to as Dr. Hall!
Angie: Do you have other creative talents you pursue?
LaQuisha: I write poetry, draw and I am currently working on a memoir.
Angie: Why is it important for a person to look their best?
LaQuisha: You are representing yourself, your family, your church and any other group you belong to: represent it well and feel good about yourself while doing so!
Angie: What do you hope to achieve with your title long term?
LaQuisha: I just truly want to make a difference in my community and help others heal from domestic and sexual violence. I also want to show the pageant world that you do not have to be a “perfect” size with a “perfect” platform to be a successful queen.
Angie: Would you share about your fashion favorites, flair, or a tip that makes you feel beautiful?
LaQuisha: I love Stella & Dot! I can add this classy jewelry to any simple outfit and feel that I have gone above and beyond fashion forward. Wearing the jewelry makes me feel even more beautiful because I sell it and donate all of my earnings to Queendom.
Angie: What are your plans after your title ends?
LaQuisha: I plan to continue supporting the various organizations that raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence. I will also accept the title of Mrs. Maryland Earth and compete next summer in the Mrs. Earth pageant.
Angie: Ooh, good luck. Please come back and let us know how the pageant comes out. What compliment do you receive most often?
LaQuisha: I receive many compliments about my clothes and how hard I work at my platform. What many may not know is that I work hard at advocating because the man who abused me was and still is still a pastor at a church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. My hope is that through my advocacy, if he has hurt anyone else, they will step forward.
Angie: I hope that you have given courage to those that need it! What are you most confident about?
LaQuisha: I am confident in God. I have been asked, “Since you were abused by clergy, has this changed or altered your view or relationship with God?”
My response to this question is that I have not lost confidence in God, but in some men who say they represent Him. I know without a doubt that God has a specially designed plan for my life and that He is and He will help me carry out that plan.
I am also confident that by promoting my cause through pageantry, I will make a difference. I have had some say that I need to change my platform to be more “judges” friendly or easier for the public to talk about with a beauty queen. I am confident because many have confirmed that I have helped them in some way, including pageant judges, who claimed that my story “touched” them in some way! If everyone is affected by this heinous crime, why can’t I talk about it with everyone?
Angie: How did you earn that sense of confidence?
LaQuisha: Honestly, I earned this confidence just by living life and staying in the Word of God. I realize that many may have other spiritual beliefs, but I personally know that if it was not for Jesus, my life would have ended in the year 2000 through my final suicide attempt.
Angie: You are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing so openly and with such courage. What would you like to share?
LaQuisha: For any queen reading this who has a Facebook account and has been negatively effected by Voy Board websites, I have created a group on Facebook called Positive Pageant People. This fan page, in which I carefully moderate, is a place where queens can make positive comments on what they observe of other queens. It has been very successful thus far with over 600 members and counting.
Recently, I have decided to make this group more interactive and personal. I am organizing a "Secret Queen" exchange.
The requirements are:
*A spending limit of $25.00
*Your name, pageant title (either past or present) and address
*Your gift purchased and mailed by December 5th
If you are interested, please join our group and message me (or you can email me at mrsmarylandgalaxy2009 [at] gmail.com) your name, mailing address (where your gift can be received--this information will not be sent to any other party other than LaQuisha Hall), 4 things you would like for Christmas and your favorite color by November 15th, 2009.
Once I receive your interest, I will send you the address where your gift should be mailed. I, LaQuisha Hall, will personally mail your gift to the recipient. Queens from any state or pageant system are welcome to participate!
Angie: I thought this was a fun and interesting opportunity, so I joined. I get to learn about a new friend in this exchange program. I'm interested in your other ideas too. What other creative ideas do you have to build connection between these women in public service?
LaQuisha: To further encourage positivity and camaraderie among queens, in January 2010 I will organize a Secret Summer Queen Exchange. During the month of January, queens will send in their interest. They will then be matched with a secret royal pen pal.
During the months of February through May, queens will send one encouraging letter a month. The queens will reveal themselves in June with a picture, final encouraging note and a small crown/queen gift. This will hopefully encourage queens while they are competing in state pageants and preparing for nationals. Ultimately, this will give them something better to read than voy boards!
Finally, remember that you don't have to wear a crown to be a queen... A true queen is woman who leads, encourages, supports and uplifts others. You don't have to wear a swimsuit to do that! I challenge every true "QUEEN" to do or say something positive about someone else today!
Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse
Queendom: Empowering the Lives of Young Ladies
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
Dreamcatchers for Abused Children
The Black Doll Affair
Sisters 4 Sisters, Inc.
Angie: LaQuisha, I am so honored you visited with us today. Count me in on the next exchange project too! Thank you!