Call it Black girl magic, yell black girls rock, we make history yet again. Last month, Sydni Dion Bennett, 16, became the first African-American to win Miss Illinois Teen USA.
The victory is especially sweet. She competed last year and was second runner up. She’s a living testament that staying in the game pays off. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune prior to the pageant, she wasn’t aware that a black girl had never won. Yet, she remained undeterred in her pursuit.
She told the Chicago Tribune, “I found out the night before the final show, actually. It made me want to fight harder and to win for all the black girls around, not just for myself,” she said. “I didn’t feel less about my ability to win because no black girl had done it; it put a drive in me rather than a doubt.”
She told the Chicago Tribune she wants other African-American girls to know they can do it just as she did. Better still, she wants them to understand that they don’t have to sell out, that they can be themselves. She told the Chicago Tribune, “I think a lot of girls go in to pageants feeling like they have to make the judges think they’re somebody they’re not. But I went in with ‘I’m me; this is who I am.’ Talking about my hands-on work with teaching and mentoring kids was easy because it’s my everyday life. I think that’s the thing that set me apart, being genuine.”
The stakes are raised for Bennett as she will compete nationally for Miss Teen USA. According to the Chicago Tribune report, Vanbros and Associates, which runs the Illinois pageant and other state contests, will help get her ready.
She’s up for the challenge. She told the Chicago Tribune, “The company (Vanbros) gives all of their winners a whole prep team to make sure we’re well-rounded. We have a book list. I have to take the citizenship test, watch the news to stay up on everything. It’s not just walk in and compete. It’s serious now. It’s a lot, but I can handle it.”