||By Deardra Shuler
As a journalist, I have often heard women make statements such as -- Why would any woman want to enter a beauty pageant? Ask yourself this... If you had an opportunity to possibly change your entire life for one year, become involved in exciting and worthwhile causes, meet the rich and famous and feel somehow you are a part of something bigger than yourself...would you seize the moment? Well, Miss USA 2002 did just that! I couldn't help but detect a bubbly lilt in Shauntay Hinton's voice when she picked up the phone in anticipation of this interview. Ms. Hinton, who is the present titleholder of Miss USA 2002, was born and raised in the state of Mississippi.
After graduating high school, Shauntay moved to Washington, D.C., where she is presently a student at Howard University. She intends to complete her major in Broadcast Journalism and her minor in Business Administration after her stint as Miss USA. The confidence and youthful exuberance of 23 year old Hinton prompted her to compete in the 2002 Miss USA pageant. In doing so, she became the third African American woman to win. "I have gone from the average student walking around on campus studying media to becoming a media personality," says Ms. Hinton when asked what it felt like to be Miss USA. "The transition from student to Miss USA was a complete 180 degree turn overnight. It is kind of scary but each day is an adventure. Usually, I am faxed the itinerary for the following day the day before. I find myself eagerly sitting at the fax machine each night waiting to see what I am assigned to do the next day. Unless its something really big, I never really know what I will be doing and that is kind of exciting," claims the charming pageant winner. The officials of the Miss USA Pageant owned by Donald Trump, generally assign a "Cause" to pageant winners. It is Ms.
Hinton's job to be the official spokesperson for Breast and Ovarian Cancer Awareness on behalf of the Pageant. "I am fortunate not to have anyone in my family diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer. However, I understand the importance of getting breast examinations, examining my own breasts for lumps, getting pap smears and seeing a gynecologist. I had attended a couple of events on the Howard campus concerning breast cancer, although I must admit, I didn't really know as much about ovarian cancer until recently." Shauntay is a person who throws herself into whatever she is doing with zest and is presently involved in a lot of charity work. Every week she attends charity events. She aids at hospitals and volunteers at organizations such as The National Cancer Alliance, Gilda's Club, The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and CARE. "I am actually doing whatever the organization wants me to do, whether it is filing or taking out trash, I am there to do it," explains Ms. Hinton. A woman of many causes, Ms. Hinton has worked on a number of projects. Prior to becoming Miss USA., she was an activist for Homelessness Awareness. Also, she worked with Diabetes Awareness and Muscular Dystrophy and even with the USO (United Services Organization) which serves military personnel. "In addition to volunteering and working with breast and ovarian cancer charities, I am taking a more pro active role and pushing for breast cancer and environmental legislation.
By campaigning for the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act which is pending on Capital Hill its kind of my way of taking a step further rather than just shaking hands and telling women to go get a mammogram. I have actually been going up on Capital Hill and have sent letters to senators and legislators requesting they pass a bill to determine the cause of the disease. You can't find a cure for breast and ovarian cancer unless you find out what its source is. One out of eight (8) women die due to breast cancer so we need to find a cure as soon as possible," explained the busy Miss USA. "I also do an outreach to women of color. African American women have the highest death rate from breast cancer. African American women are not likely to be diagnosed but are the most likely to die generally due to lack of medical care, the inability to afford treatment and/or lack of self interest." Behind every great person is usually a caring family and Shauntay is very proud of hers. "My mother, Ellen Hinton, is kind of a local celebrity in my hometown. My older sister is a financial advisor for a casino in Mississippi and I have an older brother who lives in Washington, D.C., who is a former marketing executive," remarked Shauntay. "Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a spokeswoman. I wanted to represent the voice of people who aren't able to speak out for themselves. My father, William Hinton, was a brilliant man who became homeless. He was diagnosed with Clinical Depression when I was about 10 or 11 years old. He ran away from home, lived in his car for a while and became homeless. At one time, he taught at a university and spoke 7 different languages and it was really awful that his mental illness caused his life to turn out as it did. I haven't spoken to my father in about 12 years. What happened to my father is what caused me to become an advocate of Homelessness and is really my heartfelt cause. I really believe that more must be done in terms of legislation, awareness and volunteering to help the homeless. I had to go down some very tough roads and learn some tough lessons. Life has taught me to take personal accountability for all my actions and sometimes that means helping others." As the year winds down and Shauntay gets ready to pass on the crown, she admits she will miss the joy of representing the Miss USA pageant. "I've met so many people. I met Denzel Washington, Patty LaBelle, Janet Jackson, Drew Carey and so many others. I even went on a USO tour with Wayne Newton who is truly a warm and genuine person. I kind of feel sad about giving up the crown in February. I have built many relationships that I intend to maintain. "After the pageant, it will be the beginning of the rest of my life but this opportunity as Miss USA has been like home to me. I get to live in a luxury apartment in NYC which I share with Miss Universe. Miss Russia brought the crown home but she resigned and it went to Miss Panama who lives with me and who is like a sister to me. Miss Teen USA also lives in the apartment but mostly on holidays or during the summer since she is still attending school."
In future, Shauntay is looking forward to working in broadcasting/entertainment, remaining in New York and hopefully working on various entertainment projects. "The world is changing and the world of pageantry is changing," remarks Hinton. "African American women are now being more represented in the world of beauty. They have been beautiful women all along. It's just taken a while due to our country's history for that to be realized. African American women are now stepping out into the world. They are up and coming in pageantry and also in business. We are becoming more colorful and more unified," Shauntay comments emphatically. "One of the people I most admire is Oprah Winfrey. I think we have a lot in common. We have the same past. We both went into broadcast journalism, competed in beauty contests, are southern women and now she is on her way to becoming a billionaire if she hasn't reached that mark already. She is the richest African American woman in the world."
As the interview drew to a close, Ms. Hinton had a word of advice to offer the readership. "The battles now are not the way they were in the 1960s and 70s," reflected the beauty queen. "While the struggles are still there we are now in a different arena. African Americans have to think in terms of owning the platform. We need to get out there and think in terms of becoming more economically successful. We need to come together! Instead of thinking I need a big job in someone else's company, we need to think why not own our own companies. Let us own our own companies and give other African Americans a job. Its all part of being accountable for our own success as African Americans." Sounds like good advice to this writer. I would even venture to say that I believe Shauntay Hinton has a future ahead of her and although she may only wear the crown for a year, she will hold the title for a lifetime.
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