Miss Black Ohio 2018, Helena Howe and Kalia Brown, with the 2019 Pageant Court. Credit: Courtesy of Fanchon Page, CEO of Miss Black Ohio Pageant

Karleigh Coles had hung up her tiara.

But the stage and spotlight called once more when the second-year in physical activity and coaching found out about the Miss Black Ohio Pageant, and she’s not the only Buckeye competing this weekend.

The Miss Black Ohio Pageant, a scholarship pageant, is back for its 37th year Saturday at the Columbus Performing Arts Center.

The pageant — which typically has eight to 10 contestants — recognizes women ages 14 to 28 who want to enter the world of pageantry, Fanchon Page, CEO of the Miss Black Ohio pageant, said. This year, the pageant will have eight contestants — a mix of teens and adults who will showcase their talents to four judges. Page said one teen and one adult will each be awarded a $500 scholarship.

Coles is competing in the teen division of the pageant, intended for contestants ages 14 to 18. Once a frequent pageant participant, she said she stopped doing pageants as she got older, but wanted to participate in a unique pageant.

“I’ve never heard of an African-American pageant before, and that’s really what caught my interest,” Coles said.

Caroline Bennett, an Ohio State alumna with a master’s degree in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, will also compete under the lights, but in the adult division. Adult contestants range from 19 to 28.

“I am excited for Saturday because I know personally there are going to be black girls in the audience that will see the representation of other girls on stage,” Bennett said.

Bennett said she competed in pageants as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. She was crowned Miss Black Oklahoma in 2014, Miss Black Oklahoma U.S. Ambassador in 2015 and first runner-up in the National Miss Black U.S. Ambassador Pageant.

Caroline Bennett posing for a photo after becoming Miss Black U.S. Ambassador in 2015. Credit: Courtesy of Caroline Bennett

“The pageant prides itself on building confidence, high self-esteem and promoting education,” Bennett said.

The pageant will feature a coordinated dance, introduction of the contestants, swim and activewear competition, talent portion, evening wear competition and a question-and-answer portion — when judges will ask contestants questions with 30 seconds to respond, Bennett said.

Bennett said the pageant has challenged her to grow and develop skills. She will complete the talent portion of the event with a debut performance of a song she wrote herself.

Although only one person gets the crown, she said all the contestants can be winners if they take the opportunity to develop themselves.

“I’ve competed before, and people think it’s all about winning, but I’ve gained so much along the way,” Bennett said. “That’s why I can say, regardless of what happens Saturday, I will inspire other people with the song I’ll be performing.”

Bennett’s song is not the only way she intends to inspire her audience.

Contestants in the pageant are tasked with selling tickets and promoting the event. Of the 185 tickets purchased for the now sold-out event, Bennett said she is responsible for 76. Bennett wanted young black girls in the community to have tickets for free.

Bennett said she posted on social media and reached out to people in the Columbus community and from her home state of Oklahoma in order to raise money, partnering with mentoring organizations for brown and black girls to give away the tickets.

“I made a personal pledge to myself to get girls in seats because you can’t be what you can’t see, and I just want girls to see different because a lot of pageants privilege girls with certain body and hair types,” Bennett said. “I don’t fit this description. I have blue hair and tattoos that are visible, and if nothing else comes from it, I want girls to see you can still be you.”

The Miss Black Ohio Pageant will take place from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Columbus Performing Arts Festival.