Duanisha LaShan Mathews: Miss Black Tennessee

You received a scholarship towards your studies at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU); what do you plan to do with a physical therapy masters?

One day I will open up my own chain of physical therapy facilities to help those who are uninsured or might not have the money to get quality care, and travel with a dance company—Alvin Ailey—to be their personal physical therapist. So many things I want to do...

Were you always a "smart kid" in your younger years?

No, I was not! I was actually on Hooked on Phonics. It helped me develop, but it was my family that stood by me and made me study hard.

You spoke to the Boys & Girls Club in Knoxville in early June; what's your key message for kids?

It might seem corny but my message is simple: Be true to yourself and take good care of your body. It's so important, especially in the black community, to make sure that we don't stop at caring for our minds.

You were the first black woman to win Miss Middle Tennessee Blue Raider at MTSU; was that meaningful to you?

The university has given me so much and it was a joy to give even just a little back. As the first black Miss MTBR, I knew that I would encourage other young black women to compete in the Miss America system. Tennessee is one of the last states that has yet to crown a black Miss Tennessee. We need to continue to knock down that door.

Do you think there is still good reason to have competitions that involve only black women?

I believe there are great reasons. It gives our communities advocates who look like us, know what we've been through, and understand what it takes to shatter stereotypes. It's still necessary for us to compete in other systems as well to continue to challenge that status quo on what beauty in America looks like.