Making history: Miss University of Alabama crowns first black queen


Photo Courtesy of Southern Exposure Photography

Kinsley Centers, Contributing Writer

Tiara Pennington, the first African-American to be crowned as Miss University of Alabama, knows that the color of a person’s skin should not stop them from reaching their goals, because if she did, she would not be where she is today.

In November of last year, Pennington, a sophomore majoring in political science, became the first African-American to be crowned Miss University of Alabama. Miss University of Alabama is an official preliminary, sponsored by the Alabama Alumni Association, to the Miss Alabama competition for the Miss America Organization.

The Miss University of Alabama competition, along with all Miss America Organization competitions, is based around service, style, scholarship and success. The contestants compete in evening gown, personal interview, onstage question and talent categories.

Being crowned Miss University of Alabama was a special and memorable moment for Pennington. She cried tears of joy as she graced the stage after being crowned and said she was excited to begin the journey of a lifetime.  

“In that moment, I just knew that this was going to be the best year of my life, and I definitely was going to make it the best year of my life,” Pennington said. “I just couldn’t wait to see what all I could do as Miss University of Alabama and the doors that would open for me.”

Pennington has been a part of the Miss America Organization since she was 7 years old.  During this time, she learned skills that have equipped her for the future, helped her serve her community and share her talent of singing.

She began her journey as a rising star, holding local titles for the organization as a teen and miss contestant. Pennington was crowned Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen 2016 and placed first runner-up at the Miss Alabama competition last year.

“It’s just such an honor to be able to represent The University of Alabama,” Pennington said.

As the first African-American to be crowned Miss University of Alabama, she reflects on other African-American students who came before her, and made a difference on campus. She hopes to follow in their footsteps.

“I know that there are of course a lot of successful African-American women and males here on campus who do so much, who have come before me, who have opened these doors, and it is just an honor,” Pennington said.

Pennington encourages all students to participate in some of the several Black History Month events hosted by the University. She enjoys participating because it is great to see people from different backgrounds and all ethnicities celebrate together.

“You don’t have to be a person of color to enjoy these different events,” Pennington said. “It’s always great to go and just learn more about history.”

As Miss University of Alabama, Pennington takes inspiration from Autherine Lucy Foster,  hoping she will make a difference on campus as Foster did.

“I do reflect on Autherine Lucy Foster since she was the first African-American admitted here on campus who really changed things for people of color here on campus,” Pennington said.

Pennington would like for her legacy to be cemented as someone who served their community and brought change to campus. She also hopes to be remembered as a positive light. She said this is a successful year for not only herself, but for the entire campus.

Throughout Pennington’s reign as Miss University of Alabama, she has made multiple appearances around town and focused on promoting her platform that brings attention to psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis with hopes she will help find a cure.

She chose this platform as a young teen to honor her mother and uncle who currently suffer from psoriasis. Pennington herself has a 40 percent chance of developing this genetic condition. Although it’s a rare condition, Pennington said when someone is diagnosed, it not only affects them, but everyone around them as well.

Pennington is the founder of Psoriasis Take Action Alabama. She also works with the National Psoriasis Foundation and plans to attend the National Psoriasis Foundation Capitol Hill day in Washington, D.C. in April to help pass legislation for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Pennington said previous Miss University titleholders have worn the crown beautifully and have represented the campus in a positive and inspiring light with hopes she will do the same. She encourages others to compete, especially if they are seeking scholarship money.

Carol Wright, the director of the Miss University of Alabama competition, believes Pennington will do well in the Miss Alabama competition this summer and hopes she will capture the title.

Wright said Pennington is a great role model for not only other students, but her generation as a whole. She said Pennington is a hard worker and has all of the qualities it takes to be a titleholder.

“We’re so proud of her,” Wright said.

With Pennington making history, Wright believes this will open doors for everyone here on campus.

“She’s an encourager, and I think she’ll encourage others to just give it a try,” Wright said.

Dedra Pennington, Tiara Pennington’s mother, said it shows how diverse the campus has become with Tiara Pennington being crowned Miss University of Alabama.

“I think it’s been totally life changing for her,” Dedra Pennington said.

Dedra Pennington has hopes for Tiara Pennington to continue to be involved on campus and network with everyone as she promotes the University.

The Miss America Organization works as a mentoring program for women that teaches the participants lifelong skills, encourages all women to strive for success and allows them to stay involved in their community.

“I am extremely proud of her. I know that it was something that she wanted to do and was working towards it,” Dedra Pennington said. “She’s always loved The University of Alabama, and she knew all during high school that she wanted to attend The University of Alabama, and so for her to be able to attend and then win this honor was something that really made her whole family very excited.”

Pennington will represent the University as she competes in the Miss Alabama pageant this  June at Samford University in Birmingham.

To prepare, Pennington is in search of the perfect wardrobe, and in terms of being a singer, working to build her voice to become stronger while staying healthy. Along with preparation, she will continue to serve her community and plans to work hard now so she can enjoy Miss Alabama week with the other titleholders who are also competing for the prestigious title.

“Anything that you want in life, you just have to remember it’s never going to be easy,” Pennington said. “Anything worth having is definitely going to be challenging, but if you really want it and you really work hard for it, then the sky’s the limit.”

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