For over two decades, Lisa Ruffin has been instilling her unique curriculum of confidence, awareness and pride (CAP) in young African American girls through her Little Miss African American Scholarship Pageant (LMAA). When a lack of funding threatened to end the pageant’s 25 year reign, she received a last minute rescue from the education-focused Gene Hale Family Foundation.
Ruffin is a veteran performer and choreographer that has had a fabled career. The first music video she choreographed, “JoAnna,” won an American Music Award. She has choreographed shows on Broadway and in 20 other countries. Her choreography credits include UPN’s “Moesha,” and “The Steve Harvey Show.” Ruffin is best known for her recurring role as Deena on the long-running daytime soap opera, “All my Children.”
After seeing firsthand, the effects of school bullying and the disproportionate school dropout rate of young African American girls, Ruffin felt compelled to be a part of the solution.
“I’d had a very successful career. I’d had the opportunity to work with some of the very best people in the industry. I did everything on my bucket list,” Ruffin said. “I just knew I had to give something back to our girls.”
Over the two-plus decades of producing LMAA, the pageant has trained more than 200 girls who go through a rigorous year-long curriculum that includes researching and reporting on an historic cultural figure, presentation skills, and performing a dance and musical number. Many of the pageant’s participants have graduated from college and gone on to have successful careers in the arts and other professions.
After the 25th LMAA anniversary program in 2018, funding sources dried up. A longtime sponsor opted not to support the event due to “inclusivity” issues within the pageant. Ruffin suspected the sponsor was trying to cloak a racist agenda.
“That really broke my heart. I didn’t even prepare after that. I was done. I threw away the costumes, my backdrops. Financially, I couldn’t do it anymore.” She thought the 25th would be the last LMAA Pageant.
But thanks to a generous donation from the Gene Hale Family Foundation (GHF Foundation), Ruffin was able to secure the event venue and provide scholarships for ten LMAA winners.
Gene Hale is the president of the GHF Foundation, as well as the founder and president of G & C Equipment Corporation, a multimillion-dollar construction equipment leasing and distribution company based in Gardena, California.
Since its inception in 2006, the GHF Foundation has donated tens of thousands of dollars to provide assistance to low-income families, children and young adults. In addition to providing money for educational scholarship donations, the GHF Foundation has donated to organizations that give assistance to children affected by homelessness and malnutrition. Hale said LMAA fit the foundation’s target market.
“Growing up, my family was very poor, and people helped us when we needed it. I have a soft spot in my heart for programs that support underprivileged youth,” Hale said. “I’m hoping to set a trend of successful African American businesses supporting programs and causes that assist African American youth.”
Ruffin credits the GHF Foundation for saving 2019 LMFF and now looks forward to producing LMAA in 2020 and continuing to instill her CAP curriculum to a new crop of young girls. She also thinks being featured in an episode of Home Made Simple with Layla Ali on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN) contributed to getting the pageant back on its feet.
“If we can get girls to believe in themselves and become proud of who they are, then they don’t have to go through the teenage years of self-doubt and not liking themselves,’ said Ruffin. “And if we empower girls at a young age, then by the time they hit middle school and high school, they soar, because they have a good idea of who they are.”
For more information on LMAA, visit www.littlemissafricanamerican.org.