Miss Compton declares pageant a success
Shanice McKinley sashayed down the runway under blue and purple stage lights, twirling the ruffled train of her white evening gown.
Although she was making her first turn in a brand-new pair of stiletto heels, she stepped with confidence, smiling broadly at the judges.
She would go home without a crown, but she nevertheless called her participation a win not just for herself, but also for her hometown, the much-maligned city of Compton.
The 25-year-old M.B.A. student was the first contestant from Compton to compete in the Miss California USA pageant in at least 20 years. And throughout months of fundraising and preparation, she tried to turn her pageant campaign into a drive to transform the often negative perception of her hometown.
“Usually people associate [Compton] with so many negative stereotypes, and I wanted to show people the positive side,” she told the judges, using the same words she had spoken tirelessly to business owners and community members while she was stumping for sponsors to help cover the $1,695 entrance fee.
The positive side, to McKinley, includes local success stories like tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and successful business owners, and the young people like her who have gone on from Compton high schools to graduate from college.
McKinley was one of more than 200 women competing for the 2011 Miss California USA title at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage over the weekend.
Over the grueling three-day competition, the women were judged on their appearance in bikinis and evening gowns and their performance in an interview. The title went to Miss Hillsborough, 20-year-old Alyssa Campanella.
McKinley was not among the 20 finalists — although she did get an award for being “most passionate.”
“She was all the way ready for the pageant, but I don’t think the pageant was all the way ready for her,” said her brother and personal trainer, Erv McKinley.
After the final show Sunday, as she prepared to change from heels to flip-flops and make the trek home, she was drained but positive. Even without taking the title, she had gotten more exposure than she expected — including appearances on the front page of The Times and local television programs.
On Monday, McKinley will move on to other ways of pursuing the mission of making her hometown a better place. She’ll catch up on homework for her business ethics class — the last one in her M.B.A. program at the University of Redlands.
And she’ll pick up her business license for the marketing venture she plans to launch — a “one-stop shop” for urban and Compton-based businesses that will provide package deals on advertisements, web design and social media. Ten percent of profits will go into a fund for her dream — a youth center in Compton where teens can find both college preparation resources and entertainment.
“This stuff was a process, learning to do makeup and all that, but going out and talking to people about things I’m passionate about, that’s fun,” she said.