08:34 AM

BU Student Prepares for Miss USA Pageant, a Dream 20 Years in the Making


There’s substance beyond Imani Blackmon’s sash and crown. 

Sure, she’s a beauty queen. But the 25-year-old is also a daughter, friend, advocate, and student who goes after her goals with grace and grit.

As the reigning Miss Washington USA, Blackmon is now preparing for an even bigger stage -- the realization of a dream nearly two decades in the making.

Blackmon entered the pageant world at only 5 years old and earned her first title, Miss Washinton Princess, two years later.

The same year, Blackmon remembers watching Miss USA with her mom, proclaiming as a 7-year-old she wanted to wear that crown one day.

“It’s been a long journey, 20 years strong,” says Blackmon, expressing gratitude to her parents for their selfless support along the way. On Nov. 9 in Nashville, they’ll watch their only daughter step onto the Miss USA stage. 

“They’re so excited to watch me compete,” Blackmon says. “They’ve watched me perform since I was 5; it’s been their journey, too.”

An especially bright spot along the journey was when Blackmon made history as the first African American Miss Washington Teen USA titleholder.

“When they called my name, I couldn’t believe it because it was such a big title,” says Blackmon, who was 17 at the time and a newcomer in the competition.

Early on, the glamor of pageantry enamored Blackmon. Over time, what really hooked her was the opportunity to fine-tune life skills and character traits, such as confidence, public speaking, and self-discipline.

“When you’re preparing for a pageant, there’s a lot of work that goes into it,” she says. “When I’m training to compete, and after I compete, I always feel like a better version of myself.”

Amid Blackmon’s busy training schedule, she’s currently adjusting to life as a student at Bellevue University through a special partnership with Guild Education and Disney.

A professional dancer at Disneyland, Blackmon qualified for the Disney Aspire education investment program. When she was researching partner schools, BU’s bachelor’s degree in communication studies caught her attention.

“My ultimate career goal is to be an entertainment news correspondent,” says Blackmon, who’s worked for the AfterBuzz TV network. “It seemed like a really good program and the perfect fit for me.”

What she loves most about her role at Disney is the diversity. “We’re able to interact with people from all backgrounds and bring happiness,” she says.

Growing up as a competitive dancer and pageant contestant, Blackmon was often the only black girl in the room, she says. “It makes you question if your ambitions are possible because you’re not seeing anyone who looks like you.”

When Blackmon was crowned Miss Washington as a teenager, it ignited in her a passion for representation and inclusion. She’s carried the same values into her advocacy as Miss Washington, partnering with organizations close to her heart, including Miss Amazing, Best Buddies, and In Her Shoes Foundation.

“Everyone deserves to be seen and heard,” she says. It’s a lesson she’s learned at a new level in 2020, witnessing social unrest amid a global pandemic and watching many Americans standing up for racial equality.

“I’ve grown so much this year with everything going on and have really found my voice,” says Blackmon, explaining she’s gained greater confidence in her identity and cultural heritage.

One external change she’s made to reflect her inner growth: her hairstyle. “I now have braids, and I love them,” she says. “I’m going to wear them to Miss USA, which I’m really excited about.”

Whether or not Blackmon wins the next crown, she’s already a champion in many ways. Taking her place on the platform, she says, “shows younger Imani that I never gave up on my passions.”

Of course, she has high hopes of representing her country as Miss USA and moving on to Miss Universe. Whatever the outcome, Blackmon is determined to finish strong.

She plans to chase her career goals, continue giving back to the community, and invest in the up-and-coming generation.

“I’d love to coach young girls as they prepare for their competitions and continue my advocacy,” she says. “The work doesn’t stop just because the crown comes off.”

The BU student is also looking forward to her first trip to Nebraska so she can glide across the stage at graduation. Instead of a crown, she’ll receive a diploma … hers forever.