We sat down with the founder, Sonja McCord, to find out more about her inspiration for creating the Miss Black United States Program along with her vision for its future.
1. When did you decide that you wanted to own your own pageant? From the moment I started competing in Miss America Preliminary pageants, I knew that I wanted to have my own pageant, but I wasn’t sure when I would start it.
2. When did you decide to start Miss Black United States? In 2008, following the election of President Barack Obama, I decided that I need to follow his call of duty in building up our American communities. This program is working to overcome the social, economic, and health disparities that are still impacting the African American community, and empowering them as community and social entrepreneurial leaders.
3. What are some of the very first obstacles you anticipate having to overcome? The biggest obstacle is gaining acceptance and support from non-African Americans. They believe that this program is racially motivated; however, it is a cultural program much like Miss Asian America, Miss Latina U.S., and Miss Irish American pageants. This program strengthens American communities. If you empower one person, they can and will empower others. Not many people want to invest in the African American community. This is my social responsibility and my spiritual call of duty.
4. In what ways do you plan to make your pageant different and better than the others? This is a social entrepreneurial venture. My pageant is a finishing program that empowers young women with workshops given by the industry’s top leaders in entrepreneurship, business, finance, etiquette, elegance, and social responsibility. The program culminates with a pageant. Most pageants just put a whole bunch of paid contestants in a one to two day pageant and allow them an opportunity to compete on a stage.
One girls wins a crown, while the rest sulk in misery. My contestants may be sad that they didn’t win the title, but they will walk away with an experience of a lifetime. They will empower themselves, as they work to empower others. Each contestant should walk away as leaders with or without the crown. Most importantly, they will recognize that being Miss “I am Myself” is enough in this world.
5. When does your pageant first start? How many states are you opening with? The Miss Black United States Program will launch and accept contestants in Summer 2016. It is important to me to launch the program with a full structure in place. I will not start a business without a strong business, marketing, and network of supporters. Our goal is to offer a pageant competition for all 50 states + Washington DC. These pageants will take place on the regional level, but each state will be in competition. I prefer not to have at-large delegates for this system.
6. What is the hardest thing about starting your own pageant? Finding a committed team.
When you start anything, you have to believe in yourself, against the odds. You are a one-person show building a million-dollar business plan on your own. It’s important to build a team. When you are a ground-up organization, you don’t have the financial leverage to pay for a team. Most people, won’t commit very long to a non-paid gig. Therefore, full responsibility falls on you, personally.
In a biblical sense, Noah built the ark. So can I.
7. How much knowledge do you have of starting your own pageant? What research was necessary to getting you started? I have always been very entrepreneurial, even as a little girl. My family is full of business professionals and entrepreneurs. I’ve listened to them talk about work, and have acquired knowledge regarding business. Further, I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
As far as pageantry, I’ve competed in over 25 pageants and several pageant systems including Miss America Organization, Miss Universe Organization, United States Pageants, Miss Black USA, Miss International System, U.S. Beauties Pageant, and American Queen System. I’ve researched several other pageants, pros & cons of each, and taken the best of every pageant. I’ve also taken the worst of every pageant and turned it into something brilliant in my program.
I’m sure it won’t be perfect and mistakes will be made; but, what distinguishes my system is that it really is about each of the contestants and the mark that they leave in this world. It’s not just about the bottom line and it’s not solely focused on the national winner.
8. In what ways do you hope to expand in the future? I want my program to be aired on national television. I want there to be 51 pageants held each year. Further, I want there to be a miniature version of the national program on the state and local levels. I’d love to build the system where each girl can walk away with seed money to start a valued business.
9. Did you set any goals that you hoped to reach within any specific amount of time? Yes. My primary goals are to secure 51 contestants in the first program year, have it aired on national television, and empower those 51 girls with the best and the brightest in the industry. They deserve an experience of a lifetime because no one else is going to give it to them.
10. How many years do you hope to see MBUS on the radar of pageant lovers? I envision Miss Black United States becoming a perpetual program and pageant system, until the day that social and economic disparities are eliminated, Black beauty is accepted by everyone, and our community is truly able to overcome the adverse effects from slavery, and then some!
11. On average what do you think your company will be worth in five years? From a business standpoint, I do not really care. From a social standpoint, the impact will be priceless.
12. Are you spending more time building up your business than you do on your personal life? Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking and developing my program. It is important to let a business idea and concept incubate. If it is rushed, it can’t flourish. You can’t rush a rosebud into blooming. The petals will fall off and wither. In a business sense, the business plan would die before it even had a chance to grow.
13. You created this pageant program in 2008, why has it taken you so long to launch it?
Launching this pageant has been a process! I tried in 2008. I tried in 2012. I considered it in 2014. Now, it is finally happening and the program is ready to flourish.
Anyone can start a mediocre pageant and watch it slowly flourish; however, for me, anyone who participates in this program from beginning of its launch, must have an experience that dramatically impacts their life for the better. I won’t have it any other way. Therefore, if it takes 4 years to develop a high quality program, so be it. I believe in doing things right the first time. Even after 4 years, it won’t be perfect and to a perfectionist, it never will; however, it will be up to my high standards which is enough for me.
When I finally launched in 2012, I had several people approaching me, threatening to sue me if I moved forward with the pageant system. Although I knew that I had rights to the pageant system, I couldn’t risk legal issues that could arise from moving forward. As a result, I halted everything until my trademark was approved in 2014.
By the time I officially owned the Miss Black United States federal trademark, I was not interested in launching the program. I was “burned out” from the idea and “over it.” Nevertheless, the vision of this program was divinely ordered. For that reason, I couldn’t let it go. It’s amazing how timing works. I don’t think the system would have been nearly as strong, as it is now, had I launched in 2008, 2012, or once the trademark was approved in 2014.
14. What is your ultimate goal/hope for MBUS? My ultimate goal and hope for Miss Black United States is to empower our American communities, change the face of beauty, and mitigate the disparities in the African American communities. When you invest in human capital, you are investing in a future for America. I hope that other Americans will realize what Black really is, eliminate their biased opinions and standards of beauty, and support what MBUS is doing for the world.