Area teens preparing for challenge of sorority's yearly cover girl pageant

November 24, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Giggles punctuated a soaring, slightly off-key rendition of Whitney Houston's "Count on Me" as teens vying for the title of Miss Cover Girl 1998 practiced Saturday for next week's pageant.

Shimare Spencer, 15, and La-Shaon Hill, 17, worked out the timing of their duet as the pageant's seven other contestants watched and waited their turns.

"I'm in this to have fun," said Shimare, a sophomore at Glen Burnie Senior High School.

The contestants gathered at Holy Temple Church of God in Annapolis for what was their next-to-last practice before the big day. Sunday, one of them will be crowned -- tiara-ed, actually -- Miss Cover Girl.

"I'm nervous, very nervous," said Morgan Macy, a 16-year-old junior at Severna Park Senior High.

The pageant is the highlight of Alpha Kappa Alpha's annual campaign to raise scholarship money for African-American girls.

AKA is an 89-year-old black sorority with 860 undergraduate and professional chapters worldwide. Each professional chapter stages its own fund-raisers every year, but they all have the same goal.

"The point really is to develop these young girls socially, spiritually and to give them educational opportunities," said AKA member Ramona Green of Annapolis. "I think we do some good."

The Annapolis chapter of AKA has conducted calendar girl contests each year since 1967.

To participate in the pageant, girls must commit to the AKA xTC program for a year, beginning in June. From then until November, the teens attend seminars on such topics as etiquette, financial planning, sexuality and self-esteem.

"It's really fun -- meeting all these new people and doing the different activities," said Quiana Harris, 17, a senior at Old Mill Senior High in Severna Park.

During the same period, the girls must work with their families and AKA sponsors to raise money for sorority programs.

All the money goes into a fund administered by AKA, a nonprofit organization. About half goes to scholarships for college-bound girls selected by AKA members. The rest is used for enrichment programs for the girls who raised the money.

"Raising that money is hard," said Chynika Beavers, 15, a junior at Annapolis Senior High. "I sold snowballs every day in the summer."

Other girls staged church dinners, had bake sales and sweet-talked relatives into sponsoring them or buying ads in the pageant program.

"I was just really nice to them," said Brea Stanton, 16, a junior at Annapolis Senior High, who favored the sweet-talking method.

The pageant is a formality. Whoever raises the most money is crowned Miss Cover Girl. Her award: a tiara and her picture on the cover of a checkbook-sized calendar published by AKA. Pictures of the other girls adorn pages of the calendar, in descending order of how much money they raised.

"I hope I'm an early month," Morgan said.

AKA members try to get 13 contestants, but could find only nine willing to commit to the yearlong process this year.

"I'd like to reach so many more girls," said AKA member Doris Scott, also of Annapolis. "When you see so many girls in trouble, you just say, 'Maybe this is a situation for me to do something.' "

After the pageant, the calendar girls are supposed to stay with the program until June. They go to the theater and attend more AKA seminars. If they complete the program, the girls become eligible for sorority scholarships. They also take a trip together, paid for from the money they raised. Destinations for past groups included the Bahamas, Canada and Bermuda.

Mary Kidd Keaser, 45, remembers the AKA program as a big deal for her. She was Miss Cover Girl 1969.

"I'm better for it. I think it helped me establish goals," she said. Keaser briefly attended Bowie State College before embarking on a 17-year government career.

Ursula Chambers Watson, Miss July 1970, said participating in the program helped her focus and gave her the confidence to do some modeling in her teens. Watson eventually earned a doctorate and is a pupil personnel worker for the Anne Arundel Board of Education -- a job that used to be known as truant officer.

Keaser and Watson will relive their days as calendar girls Sunday, along with about 50 other past participants. They were invited to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the calendar girl fund-raiser.

"It was exciting to be a part of it," said April Jefferson Wilkerson, Miss Cover Girl 1978. "I'll be there. I'm looking forward to it."

Tickets for the 4 p.m. pageant at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Annapolis are $40. Information: 410-987-8462 or 410-849-8467.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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