Jhana-Rae Cole will host a fundraising event at Wild Goose Creative ahead of the competition
In a 1968 edition of the New York Times, the latest Miss America winner is immediately highlighted not for her brains or even her overall beauty, but her hair.
“The Illinois gymnast is the first blonde to win the title in 11 years,” the article stated.
“I’m so glad,” champion Judith Anne Ford is quoted saying. “I feel like it’s a breakthrough.”
A more substantial breakthrough is featured in an article on the same page; the piece covered the first Miss Black America, Saundra Williams. The inaugural MBA pageant took place at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the same night as the Miss America competition — intentionally a few blocks away and a few hours later.
In response to the absence of black women in the Miss America pageant, Philadelphia entrepreneur J. Morris Anderson created MBA “to reverse the negative propaganda of the black woman and her role in America.”
Fifty years later, Columbus native Jhana-Rae Cole will follow in the footsteps of black women, including celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Toni Braxton, vying for the MBA crown. The competition takes place Saturday, August 18, in Kansas City. As part of her preparation, Cole will host a fundraising event at Wild Goose Creative on Sunday, July 1, to “show her heart.”
“I want [people] to know what it is they are investing in,” said Cole, who will showcase her pageant talent at the event. “Through singing, I’m able to articulate my emotional journey that’s led me to the platform I’ve chosen for Miss Black America.”
That platform is “the power of right thinking,” which Cole learned after experiencing the deaths of her two best friends — two years apart. “After coming through a lot of grief and turmoil and anxiety, I have sought out answers to navigate that,” Cole said. “My goal is to help other people learn how to think through a lot of the toxic thoughts that we are bombarded with every day … in a healthy way.”
Cole won Miss Black Ohio in 2016, but did not have the financial resources or time to participate in MBA that year. When the current Miss Black Ohio opted out of the national competition, Cole became eligible for a second opportunity this year.
A student at Central Ohio Technical College, Cole hopes to transfer to Ohio State to double-major in psychology and business administration. She is interested in e-commerce, and will present a business idea to an expert panel during a pitch-off — one of the five phases of the competition. (Unlike the Miss America pageant, the swimsuit round is still included.)
Though Miss America has become a bit more inclusive — Vanessa Williams famously became the first African-American winner in 1984 — MBA stresses an ongoing need for “the empowerment of women of color throughout America.”
“If we look at the climate, the way the world is now … I think that it’s important,” Cole said. “The whole idea of Miss Black America came out of making sure that these women … didn’t feel like they were the ‘other.’”