It’s not easy to pack for a beauty pageant. Leaving North Carolina for Washington, D.C., Amanda McCoy barely knew where she would sit.
There were “two suitcases, and a suitcase for all of my shoes, and 10 suit bags full of clothes, and an additional suit bag that held all of my professional clothes,” said McCoy, 21. “I felt like I was going away for a monthlong trip, but I was actually going away for a week.”
The trouble turned out to be worthwhile: McCoy, who grew up in Cary, won the national Miss Black USA pageant last month. And it was about more than the clothes, she said.
McCoy grew up around the pageant system, her mother having worked with the competitions for years. To a 10-year-old, the dresses, speeches and competitions can be pretty alluring.
“Little girls always have a role model they always look up to,” McCoy said in a phone interview from UNC Charlotte, which she attends. “I just was excited to be in their presence. I wanted to be a girl on stage that some other little girl looked up to one day.”
In Washington, McCoy competed against 26 delegates from across the country. She already had won the Miss Teen Essence competitions nationally and in Wake County, as well as Miss Black North Carolina.
The visit to the nation’s capital included a “red dress” reception for the “Heart Truth” health campaign, and a visit to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
McCoy’s mother, Connie, first got involved with pageants because she saw them as a way to boost black girls’ sense of self-worth.
A native of predominantly white Cary, Connie McCoy Rogers found herself the only African-American contestant in a Junior Miss competition in the early 1980s. She walked away with a “most talented” award and a lifelong hobby.
Three decades later, she watched her daughter work her way through an interview and segments including fitness, talent, evening wear and a monologue on the right to vote.
“It was nerve-wracking. I was on pins and needles the entire night,” Amanda’s mother said. But “when she came out in her evening gown, it was a showstopper.”
Weeks after her win, Amanda McCoy found herself questioned by a man who didn’t see the point of dividing a beauty pageant along a racial line. But she said she believes it’s necessary as a celebration of culture, and a reprieve from white-oriented aesthetic standards.
“When I was little, I would put a towel on my head because I wanted my hair to be longer. Eventually, I just kind of started to grow into myself. I started to realize that nobody’s the same,” she said.
“None of the white people were the same either. Growing up in Cary, I actually appreciated – I feel like I can address all different kinds of people.”
McCoy, now a college senior studying communications, took home a $5,000 scholarship. She’ll also travel to Europe and Africa and advocate for heart-healthy living.