FORT WORTH, Texas – Ocielia Gibson impressed judges at the Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant 2011 when asked how the nation could improve the high school graduation and college entry rates of African Americans.
“A lot of our kids need mentorship and tutoring from other successful African Americans that they can look up to,” Gibson said. “So a key way to improve the graduation rate and college entry rate is for people just like us to come back and give back to them to show them the way, to guide them and to help them.”
Gibson, a women’s ministry student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, subsequently was crowned Miss Black USA on Aug. 9.
Her answer during the pageant flowed from a passion for women’s ministry that God placed on her heart as a teenager.
“As a 16-year-old who had recently given my life to Christ,” Gibson says on her website, “I sat in my mother’s living room one night watching music videos on TV. Gradually, with each video I watched – and each girl I saw degraded – I began to grieve tremendously in my heart.”
Her grief soon turned into tears as she wept and prayed for the young women she saw in the music videos. At that moment, Gibson says, God gave her a “burden for my generation of young sisters.” Three years later, as a college student, she “stepped out on this burden and established the More Than a Pretty Face After-School Mentoring Program.”
The faith-based ministry seeks to encourage young women to live in purity, to help them discover their true self-identity and to “redefine modern beauty,” according to its www.morethanaprettyface.org website.
The ministry has reached more than 1,000 young women throughout Gibson’s native state of Texas and in Arkansas, edifying them through three initiatives: The Ultimate Beauty Dish, a series of workshops designed to teach young women about true self-identity, sexual purity and successful womanhood; The Ultimate Beauty Girls’ Summits, an annual summit featuring “award-winning female specialists and speakers”; and the RENEW HER Project, giving a “pink pocket Bible” to young women who come to Christ through the ministry but who do not have a Bible of their own.
Gibson confessed that she came through many struggles and had to redefine beauty for herself before winning the Miss Black USA crown and before redefining beauty for other young women. Although raised by a caring single mother, the abandonment of her father scarred her, leaving her in pain and confusion as a young girl. She also questioned her own beauty because of unexplained hives that would appear on her skin. Her self-esteem plummeted as other children called her “leopard, spotted-bodied girl, alligator skin and ugly.”
In an interview with The Seattle Medium, Gibson said she had to overcome these issues and learn to believe in herself.
“I had to truly believe that even though I had those physical flaws, regardless of that, I was a beautiful woman,” she told the African American newspaper. “I had to make the decision to [either] keep wallowing in that self-pity or to just hold my head high and be the best that I can be even with those physical flaws.”
Having rediscovered her own beauty, Gibson entered the Miss Black Texas 2009 pageant at the age of 19. After finishing as second runner-up for two years in a row, she made the difficult decision to persevere and enter the competition a third time. This time she won.
After winning the pageant, she decided to enter the Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant 2011, which drew her attention because it “celebrates black women and displays who you are inside.”
Now that she wears the Miss Black USA crown, Gibson hopes she will be able to spread the message of More Than a Pretty Face Inc. to more young women across the nation.
Proud of Gibson’s accomplishments, Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, likewise hopes Gibson will be able to use this opportunity as a platform for ministry.
“Ocielia Gibson is a woman of strength who has overcome much, which has enabled her to fully understand that beauty is more than outward appearance,” Stovall said. “She is a strong role model to teen girls, especially girls of color, at a time when positive role models can be hard to find.
“Oceilia’s ministry of helping girls find their true identity, remain sexually abstinent and engage in servant leadership provide foundational building blocks to tomorrow’s virtuous women. Her challenge to mentor teen girls today should spur all women to model this Titus 2 lifestyle,” Stovall said.
“We are proud to count Ocielia as a Southwesterner and pray with her that God will use this year as Miss Black USA to impact even more girls for the Kingdom of God.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Southwestern student Ocielia Gibson crowned Miss Black USA.)