Each June, the Maynard 4 Foundation, a national organization that strives to help others grow by providing resources to develop education, health equity, culture, and social justice, hosts a scholarship pageant program for 13-18 year-old girls across the nation. The purpose – to encourage learning more about African American women’s history and showcase the inherent beauty and talent of participants.
Suntrease Williams-Maynard, founder of the Maynard 4 Foundation, describes how her organization and especially its largest program, the Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageantry Program, was destined to be. “We created the Maynard 4 Foundation on June 19, 2020, one year later Juneteenth became a recognized federal holiday, and the rest is history.”
The Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageantry Program is shaping young girls to make a difference in their communities as well as their future careers. Williams-Maynard describes the program as “so much more than just a pageant, it acts as a small component to help build confidence, build self-esteem, and celebrate history that is sometimes not talked about otherwise.”
With the purpose of giving back to the community at the heart of it all, the program aims to bring awareness to the meaning of Juneteenth while highlighting the historical nature of African American women as a whole. Juneteenth is a holiday for everyone to recognize the good and the bad African American history, shares Maynard. “I want participants to realize they stand on some powerful shoulders; that people that have come before them have done some amazing things and that African American history is not limited to slavery.”
Prior to the pageant, participants are required to research a black female not typically studied in mainstream education and learn about who they are, what they did, and how they contributed to their field. The young women use their research to think forward and explore careers they could see themselves pursuing. Reflecting on a field that interests them, the girls create a costume that embodies the career they hope for in the future. Past participants have created costumes representing lawyers, aerospace engineers, and architects to name a few. Fundraising is another component of the pre-pageant requirements. The girls each choose a charity and learn how to be a successful fundraiser by branding themselves in a positive light. The goal is to teach the participants the importance of hard work. “At the end of the day, you get out what you put in,” says Williams-Maynard.
When the event weekend begins, contestant experience an impactful and inspiring “sister circle,” a panel welcoming women of all backgrounds to share their career journey, followed by a resource fair and a financial literacy session, which show the girls the resources and opportunities available to achieve success. “Ensuring we introduce financial and career resources to young people, especially young women, is so vital to their future success,” shares Hancock Whitney Director of Diversity and Inclusion Tamara Wyre. “Sponsoring and participating in community and cultural events like Miss Juneteenth are part of Hancock Whitney’s purpose of creating opportunities for the people who call our region home.”
Hancock Whitney's Director of Diversity & Inclusion Tamara Wyre (left) and Senior Manager for Community Development Programs Ashley Aubrey Harrison (right) join Suntrease Williams-Maynard at this year's Miss Juneteenth event.
The program experience is not complete without the on-stage event. The young women participate in four categories for the chance to earn scholarships. The categories include BeYOUtiful, an opportunity for participants to dress in whatever makes them beautiful and share their research about a Black female figure; Talent, a demonstration of a talent that pays tribute to African American culture; Aspirations, a display of career aspirations; and Formal Wear, the chance to wear traditional African formal clothing to discuss Juneteenth.
The annual program concludes with the ladies presenting donation checks to the charitable organization they fundraised for during pre-event preparation and a visit to AfricaTown, the home to the last known slave ship from Africa, a historic landmark that ties directly into the freedom celebration of Juneteenth.
Learn more about the Miss Juneteenth program and this year’s winners at missjuneteenth.org.