The evening was filled with excitement and anticipation on Sunday, August 16, when 35 young ladies showcased their skills, creativity and talent during the 22nd Annual Little Miss African American Scholarship Pageant at the H.O.M.E. restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Founded by producer/choreographer Lisa Ruffin and hosted by boxing champion Laila Ali, the star-studded event is held each year to foster confidence, poise and self-esteem in African-American girls ages 6 to 12.
The Divine Praise dancers, dressed in flowing white dresses, kicked off the evening with a high-energy performance dedicated to the ancestors followed by a praise-inspired musical number that had the crowd clapping.
Dressed in colorful sparkling gowns and flashing captivating smiles, the girls exhibited an array of talents and abilities that included historical monologues, riveting dance numbers, and spirited singing. After their performances, the contestants were individually scored on their presentations by a panel of celebrity judges.
The judges and presenters included actress Ella Joyce of Being Mary Jane; actor James Pickens of ABC’S Grey’s Anatomy; reality star/singer Shanice Wilson; comedian and actress CoCo Brown of American Crime Story; talk show host Ron Brewington; actress and youth advocate May May Ali; actress and director Sandra McClain; actor Kevin Craig West of Twilight; Art Sims of 1124 Advertising; actress Sonja Maddox; musician Phil Upchurch; and actor Raymond Luke.
Other judges and presenters included former Givenchy model Von Gretchen Shepherd; dermatologist Dr. Susan Evans. Dr. Kay Andrews of the Human Renewal Institute was also present during the event and came out to support the cause.
Ruffin said that the annual pageant encourages the girls’ creativity and intellectual ability by fostering a sense of self-awareness and pride so that they will have the confidence to pursue their dreams and goals.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-born choreographer revealed that she enjoyed watching pageants as a teen. “Since starting the pageant 22 years ago, I am proud to say that two of our participants have become surgeons and three of our young ladies are now lawyers,” Ruffin said. “Eighty-nine percent of our first year African American girls have graduated from college.”
Ruffin was presented a Golden Heart Award by staff member Mailon Rivera for her 22 years of dedicated service.
Ruffin also thanked Ali by presenting her with an award to for her years of hard work and dedication. Ruffin also thanked actress Dawnn Lewis, who has been a staunch supporter of the pageant for 21 years.
After a stirring evening of singing, dancing and dramatic speeches, the audience erupted in cheers and applause as the contestants, dressed in colorful gowns and sparkling diamond-encrusted crowns, returned to the stage to smile and wave at the audience.
After tallying the scores, the winners were awarded plaques and trophies for individual achievement.
The Community Service Award Winners included Trinity Parrish; Nazreen El-Shabazz; Jayde Grant; Krista Campbell; Kristyn Simpson; and Nirena Haynes.
The Director’s Award Winners were Krista Campbell; Jayde Grant; and Brooklyn Robinson.
The Producer’s Award went to Krista Campbell; Amira Poland; and Kristyn Simpson. Trinity Parrish and Chloe Toussant received the Historian Award.
The 2014 LMAA Winner, 11-year-old Miyae Folks, was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and whistles as she took her farewell walk across the stage.
Capturing the title of Little Miss African American for 2015 was 11-year-old Mariah Victorious Hall from Glendale, Arizona. Hall appeared stunned as she was presented with a diamond-encrusted crown, the 2015 Little Miss African American sash and a glittering trophy.
Runner-ups for the LMAA 2015 title were first runner up Krista Campbell; second place winner Nasareen El-Shabazz; and Krysta Simpson, who captured the third runner-up title.
“Winning the title was unexpected, but very exciting,” said Hall, who won after delivering a riveting speech on Mansa Musa, the ancient king of Mali, followed by a riveting dance number. Hall dedicated her win to her grandmother, her biggest fan. As for her future plans, Hall revealed, “I hope to perform on Broadway one day or to become a professional choreographer. It has been an honor and a blessing to have this opportunity to be in the Little Miss African American Pageant,” she said.
“Our young girls need to be uplifted and we need to give them encouragement,” said Ali, who said she has supported Ruffin and the pageant for years. “It’s important that we foster their self-esteem and encourage the girls to do whatever they want in life.”
“As black women, we are fighting an uphill battle to be respected and to be seen as worthy,” said Brown after the pageant. “These young girls are our next generation. This pageant is a platform to help build their self-esteem and to let them know that they are beautiful and worthy. It’s not about celebrating their faces and their bodies; it’s about celebrating their soul and spirit.”
For more information, visit the pageant’s website at www.littlemissafricanamerican.org.
*Updated August 25, 2015
An earlier version of this article stated Dr. Kay Andrews was a judge of the pageant. Andrews was not a judge, but was present for the pageant.