TeKema Balentine, Miss Black USA

It was a pretty amazing experience for TeKema Balentine when she recently found out that she was named Miss Black Wisconsin. She had a little time to celebrate and enjoy that prestigious distinction, but now she’s getting ready to compete at the next level – to become Miss Black USA.

“This is a cool opportunity for me,” Balentine tells Madison365. “I’m really excited about this opportunity and I’m going to give it my best shot.”

In August, Balentine will be headed to the Performing Arts Theater in Washington D.C. where she will compete against women from 49 other states in the Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant, a national stage for participants from across the United States to showcase their unique talents and beauty and to compete for scholarships.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the 25-year-old Balentine who is pursuing a nursing degree at Madison College.

“Nursing school is expensive so I started looking into scholarship pageants and this was still available for me to enter and I applied for Miss Black USA Pageant,” she tells Madison365.

Miss Black USA organization is the first and oldest scholarship pageant for women of color and has awarded over $500,000 in scholarships over the years since its inception in 1986. It is the largest single source of scholarship funding for women of color.

Balentine put in her application, went through a series of interviews, and delivered headshots and her grades as she competed at the state level in the competition. Last month, she was notified that she was the winner of Miss Black Wisconsin and that she would be advancing to the national competition in Washington D.C. Aug. 7-12.

For that, she’s going to need to raise quite a bit of money. Balentine has set up a gofundme to cover those costs.

“The pageant fees themselves are $1,500 and that includes basically they give you a robe and a t-shirt that you’re supposed to match with everybody else,” she says. “The beginning of the competition also covers the stay at the Marriott. I’m responsible for finding an evening gown, a cocktail gown, a swimsuit, hair, make-up … things like that. I’m responsible for my travel fees … I’m essentially responsible for everything!”

Over the years, Miss Black USA has helped to launch the successful careers of young women of color in the fields of education, law, medicine, entertainment, the arts and more.

“It costs a lot of money right now, but, hopefully, in the end, it will contribute to my career,” Balentine says. “In the end, I hopefully will get scholarship money for school and maybe some possible career opportunities.”

The Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant “empowers women to own their power and celebrates their unique talents, traits and beauty.” According to the organization, Miss Black USA “defines her own standard of beauty and celebrates the whole women, mind, body and spirit, all shades of brown, hair texture and size.”

“It’s a week-long trial and what happens is that I will compete with a talent – I will be singing an Italian classical piece. I will compete in a fitness section where I will be graded on body quality, the way you take care of yourself, and the athletic clothes you chose to wear,” Balentine says. “I will be graded in a swimsuit and evening gown competition and then on an interview. So there are lots of components in the judging.”

Miss Black USA is the largest national and premier pageant for women of color.

“There will be women from all 50 states,” Baletine says. “The first few days will be phase one and they choose a top 12. On day four, they narrow it down to seven. On the crowning day, they will choose who wins the national title of Miss Black USA. Scholarship awards will be presented to the top five.”

In Madison, Balentine also works part-time as a model, through the local Rock Agency, part-time as a caregiver, working for BrightStar Home Care and part-time as a coach for Madison East Track and Field team. She’s an alumna of Madison East High School and is proud to be not only representing Wisconsin in the Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant, but the city of Madison.

“I’ve been here in Madison for most of my life,” she says. “I’m excited to represent my city and my state. I think that this a great pageant and it is important for other brown girls to see that you can be pretty and do the glitzy glammy things, but you can also have a career. I think that too often people feel like they have to choose between those two things, and I don’t feel like that is the case.

“Not for me, anyways,” she adds. “I plan on doing both. And I hopefully can be a role model for other girls and young women. I’m excited about this opportunity.”