Miss America visits city with a smile and a serious cause

November 21, 1990|By Henry Scarupa

"Here she comes! . . . ain't she pretty? . . . she's just a person . . . yeah, but ain't she pretty?"

That chorus of adulation is for Marjorie Judith Vincent, Miss America 1991, as she sweeps through the Reisterstown Road Plaza for a promotional appearance at the Beauty Outlet. It is Ms. Vincent's first time in Baltimore since becoming the nation's beauty queen in September.

Hardly an imperious monarch, the 26-year-old Chicago native and former Miss Illinois flashes a winning smile and radiates warmth as she greets her fans and takes the bouquet of roses proffered by store officials.

Flashbulbs pop as she makes this late morning appearance, to be followed by one at the Mondawmin Mall. Fans gather behind a rope barrier -- senior citizens, mothers with young children, a few men.

Once the formalities are over, Miss America sits down at a table and begins signing photographs. She asks each person's name and writes, "Best wishes, Marjorie."

Appearances such as this during the year of her reign are expected to earn Ms. Vincent $175,000 before taxes.

Although she plainly enjoys meeting the public, the real payoff for Miss America comes later when she stops by the House of Ruth, a Baltimore organization for abused women. She presents the group with a $5,000 check on behalf of Lustrasilk, the beauty-products business that sponsored her appearance. As her "service platform," Ms. Vincent has chosen to speak up for abused women and children.

A third-year student at the Duke University Law School, she looks forward to practicing corporate and international law but also hopes to do volunteer work with the victims of family abuse.

met women who were victims," she said. "They often don't know what to do or where to turn. It's something that needs to be talked about and publicized."

Already she's made an impact on public awareness of the issue, according to Leonard Horn, chairman of the board and CEO of the Miss America Pageant organization. "The hot lines have been ringing off the hook," he says.

Growing up with four sisters and a brother, Ms. Vincent is keenly aware of the importance of a supportive and loving family. Her Haitian immigrant parents provided her with many advantages, she says, including years of lessons in piano, voice and dance. She majored in music at DePaul University in Illinois.

Even a close-knit family, however, couldn't always shield her from the racial discrimination in American society, she says, citing as an example the time she was rejected for an office job while a teen-ager because of her race.

Today, as the fourth black woman to reign as Miss America, Miss Vincent sees herself as a role model for all young American woman. "It shows race isn't as important as it once used to be," she says.

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