Growing up on the city’s South Side, the granddaughter of an esteemed writer, historian and journalist and surrounded by a family flock that included lawyers and other professionals, what Imani Josey wanted to be when she grew varied based on how old she
Growing up on the city’s South Side, the granddaughter of an esteemed writer, historian and journalist and surrounded by a family flock that included lawyers and other professionals, what Imani Josey wanted to be when she grew varied based on how old she was when she pondered it.
As a girl she set her sights on being a cartoonist or some kind of artist. Then a pubescent Josey changed her mind and was sure she’d be an astronomer.
But she ended up doing something that blew her family’s mind yet has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things in her life. Imani Josey, 24, is a trailblazing beauty queen.
“That came completely out of left field,” she told the Defender, with a hearty laugh.
Since her days at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Josey, a self-professed nerd – and her family cosigns that – has been entering pageants and capturing crowns.
“At first (my family) had no idea what I was doing or why I was interested in this whole pageant thing,” she said laughing.
But they are now some of her biggest supporters, especially after seeing the work she does as a titleholder and the impact it has, and the training she puts in to win the crowns.
“At first, they didn’t quite understand. Now that they get it, they’re totally on board,” she said. “They didn’t know that I was gonna be as serious about it and they didn’t know that I would be pretty good at it.”
Her father gives his input on her gowns and swimsuits for competition and her older sister, a PR professional, accompanies Josey as her “manager.” And her grandfather, former JET magazine editor Larone Bennett Jr., talks about her everywhere he goes.
Her appetite for pageantry was whet at Howard University.
When she watched a pageant competition at Howard, she thought it a novel – and out of the box – idea for her to compete. Still she entered the Miss Black and Gold pageant anyway. She quickly found out that being a beauty queen is so much more than vanity and strutting on a stage.
The Miss Black and Gold pageant was fierce and she got “a lot of really good training…they are serious about their girls being trained well.”
“I got to see a young African American woman get her moment, get the recognition that you don’t see on television. .. upholding everything there is about being a woman and celebrating it,” Josey said of the college competition that became her impetus for getting into pageantry.
Instead of staying in D.C. to compete there, she returned home and set her sights on local pageants.
Josey recalls thinking out loud, “I’m getting in Miss Chicago this year, I’m going to be in there.” She graduated from Howard in 2008 and the following year, she was crowned Miss Chicago.
“I didn’t know all I was getting myself into, it was a totally different experience. Like when I won it, I didn’t realize that it would be so mind blowing to everybody because one, I was African American and that had not happened in the last 20 years. And the other girls … had all this training in the Miss America system and here’s this random Black girl that comes in and wins Miss Chicago, out of nowhere.”
Earlier this year she was crowned Miss Cook County.
The pageants aren’t strictly about walking in night gowns, strutting in bathing suits or being a pretty face, Josey explained. There is an emphasis on community service and academic scholarship. She has won several scholarships as part of being a titleholder.
“What I really like is when I get to go in my community, when I get to meet people,” she said.
To boot, “I haven’t had to pay my student loan bill for the last year … it helps,” she said, speaking of the scholarship money that she won and applied to her education costs. She is hoping now to get into a graduate communications program at Northwestern University.
“I really want to get more women of color into pageantry,” Josey said. She explained that she’s learned the ropes in the system and wants to pay it forward to other aspiring women.
Pageants “make you grow in levels that you didn’t even know that you could grow in.”
And she feels she’s a “better person” for it.
“I’m a nerd, I love being a nerd. … The glamour is fun, but I prefer to develop Imani as a person more so than Imani as a glamour queen. When I’m being a beauty queen I feel like I am enjoying being a role model for the young ladies that are around me.”
By day, she is fine in sash and crown, with makeup and fancy figure-flattering cocktail dresses. But when she goes home, “I know how to turn it off. … At first it was very strange trying to balance both segments of what Imani is and what I find important.”
But she has learned to find balance and stay grounded.
A dancer, she has been on a dance squad of some sort since high school. For the 2009-10 Bulls basketball team she was a member of the Chicago Bulls’ Luvabulls.
Her message to girls: Don’t be afraid to try. And then if you do try and you don’t succeed don’t be afraid to get back up and try again.
“A setback is just an opportunity for a glamorous comeback,” the petite, jovial beauty queen said.
The Whitney Young high school alumnae is looking forward to teaching pageant classes next month.
Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender