Ariel Thompson has proven she’s ready for the spotlight.
Bluegrass State’s newest Miss Black Kentucky USA was crowned earlier this month, winning the “Miss Division” pageant at the Oct. 9 pageant. Thompson is one of three Miss Black Kentucky Division winners, along with Teen Division winner Nia Franklin and Ms. Dominique Division winner Joy Thompson. The trio were among 15 women and girls who showed their talents for a chance to win prizes, a $5,000 scholarship and a historic pageant title.
The event – which took place this year for the first time in at least a decade – was held at the Louisville Memorial Auditorium and invited black women to compete as themselves, no matter who they are or who they are. where they come from. About 250 friends and family members were in the crowd, said Ashley Anderson, executive director of Miss Black Kentucky.
And Thompson, who won the title, said his crowning moment came against all odds.
An HBCU grad with big dreams
Thompson was born and raised in the West End of Louisville, an area she still calls home. The 24-year-old pageant winner was raised by her grandparents, which means she is no stranger to adversity, she said.
“I was faced with a lot of statistics and constantly being told, ‘You fall into this category,'” Thompson said.
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But when Thompson looked at what was possible in her own life, she says, she saw much more.
Thompson left the West End to attend Kentucky State University, a historically black college in Frankfurt, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a minor in voice communication. These days, Thompson works at Simmons College, the only historically black college in Louisville, as a residence life coordinator.
His journey continues to shape his life and his ambitions.
In February, Thompson announced on Instagram that she planned to release a children’s book about grandparents raising their young grandchildren. It’s one of four books she said she’s working to write that “will cover major issues that we face in the black community that we struggle to discuss with children.”
A system not made for black women
Thompson has a list of titles she could rattle off from past contests. She was a first runner-up in her first pageant, Miss Black and Gold at Kentucky State, a top 15 in Miss Kentucky pageants in 2021 and 2022, and second runner-up in Miss Kentucky Earth, which works to raise awareness of environmental issues.
But the role models in her life, she says, are the reason she found success on stage.
Anderson, executive director of Miss Black Kentucky, was a major inspiration, she said, and the two have a lot in common.
Anderson, like Thompson, grew up in the West End and has a long history in pageantry. She previously competed in Miss Black USA as Miss Black Ohio, she said, where she was fourth runner-up. It was a rewarding experience, she says, but not as rewarding as connecting with other black women with similar goals and values.
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Anderson knew Kentucky needed an opportunity for girls and women like Thompson to compete as well. Miss Black Kentucky, she said, was her way of using her experience as a “little girl on Eighteenth and Hill Street with not much hope and role models” to uplift other black women and give them the same opportunities to “empower the community.”
And Thompson, like Anderson, said she’s often the only black woman to enter contests she’s entered before. Miss Black Kentucky, she said, was a chance for her and other black women to build a community of support.
“I didn’t always want to be around,” Thompson said. “I haven’t always wanted to be seen as an anomaly…when I’m just trying to make a difference.”
Dealing with further judgment is nerve-wracking, she added. “You always have to be 20 steps ahead to get noticed, not to win, but to get noticed.”
“I’ve had coaches that I’ve had to drop because of microaggressions and comments towards black women, or even comments towards me, about my hair being too big,” Thompson said.
Thompson said her experience as a black woman — and as a black woman in Louisville — shaped her, however. And she brings that experience to the stage.
At the Miss Black Kentucky pageant earlier this month, Thompson used the talent portion of her show to honor Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot dead by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a no-knock warrant in her apartment in 2020. She speed-painted a portrait of Taylor in 90 seconds during the show, while Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up” played.
“Far across the river, do you hear the call of freedom? read his words. “Call me to answer, I will continue.”
What’s next for Miss Black Kentucky?
Miss Black Kentucky USA gave Thompson a place to “bond with other contestants” for the first time in her pageant experience, she told the Courier Journal. The event puts the challenges black women face in pageantry at the forefront of conversations, she added.
Her personal experience led her to base her pageantry platform on mental health. Her grandparents enrolled her in therapy at a young age, she said, which made Thompson a strong advocate for counseling.
Thompson organizes mentorship events for young women and girls and works with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America as well as local churches to host them, she said.
One of her favorites, Thompson said, is called “Girl Code,” with participants ranging in age from 4 to 40. The annual event focuses on promoting positive mental health for black girls and women, Thompson said, and attendees use vision boards to illustrate how they can achieve their goals no matter where they come from. are coming.
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Thompson’s passion for mentorship and mental health inspires her career goal of becoming a clinical psychologist, she said, but for now, she’s set to become Miss Black Kentucky USA. She will go to Washington DC next August to represent the Bluegrass State at Miss Black USA.
Her story, she said, should show girls and women that they should pursue their dreams, regardless of what others say.
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s in your heart, what’s on your mind and what’s on your mind,” Thompson said.
Contact reporter Rae Johnson at RNJohnson@gannett.com. Follow them on Twitter at @RaeJ_33.
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