Laila Ward ’21, a recent graduate of Poly, always dreamed of participating in Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Royal Court, however, COVID put those plans on pause allowing her to pursue something closer to her heart.
After a series of interviews, mentoring sessions, and a pageant showcase, Laila was crowned Miss Black Pasadena 2021
, an award created for Black girls to shine unapologetically. A first of its kind, the organization was started four years ago to empower young Black women to celebrate their beauty, cultivate their leadership skills, and reaffirm their role as change agents.
“I think Black girls need to be crowned,” said Laila during our recent Zoom interview in which she wore her tiara and sash. “It’s not just about me winning, it’s about me lifting up my fellow African American sisters. I think Black girls need to know they’re special and I want to keep sending that message.”
Laila is a celebrated member of the student body at Poly: she is a competitive volleyball player and track runner. She also is a leader on campus and within the community leading the Black Student Union; serving on the diversity, equity, and inclusion council SLIDE; and volunteering as a candy-striper. Laila shared in our interview that she feels Black girls are not as empowered as they should be.
“You don’t ever hear ‘you are beautiful.’ I’ve never been asked to a Poly dance. Black girls need to know they are empowered and they are the culture. They are everything,” she said.
Tamieko Foster, the founder of Miss Black Pasadena, shared in an interview that although the organization provides resources for public school students, she has learned that independent school students need just as much support as they are often in the minority. She added that Black girls at independent schools have different struggles in order to fit in and fully shine as themselves.
“I’m so grateful for Laila’s perspective during the workshop,” said Tamieko. “The girls blew me away, but Laila really stood out. She has a very gentle but powerful spirit and demeanor. She’s very poised and able to think quickly on her toes and respond insightfully, which is very impressive to see at a young age in order to advocate for herself and others. She is powerful!”
Tamieko shared that her inspiration for Miss Black Pasadena came during her freshman year at Spelman College, a historically Black college in Atlanta. She was able to witness full, beautiful Black courts where Black beauty reigns and is not just reserved for a minority of the court. She views Miss Black Pasadena as an incubator for Black girls at a critical age where they can learn life skills not taught in school and find community among other Black women.
Laila’s reign as Miss Black Pasadena will include school visits, community service, and speaking events. She hopes to advocate for causes including education inequality, immigration, social justice, and Black Lives Matter. Tamieko also shares that she hopes to take the organization on the road to historically black colleges and universities throughout the U.S.
Laila is headed to the University of Southern California in the fall as a pre-med biology major and hopes to take classes in Spanish, law, and ethics.
“As Miss Black Pasadena, I strive to empower other Black girls to walk in their power.”