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Miss Black Arizona represents UA, Tucson

CASSIE TOMLIN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Third-year epidemiology doctoral student Rachel Wilhite, winner of the Miss Black Arizona title, is preparing to run for the national title in August. Wilhite mentors black women through the promotion of math and science.
By Monica Warren
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 21, 2005
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Rachel Wilhite first read about the Miss Black Arizona pageant in a bulletin at her church. Though she had never participated in a pageant before, the idea of competing stuck with her.

"It kept coming up in my head," Wilhite said. "I thought, 'I could wear a dress for some scholarship money.'"

After winning the state title in February, Wilhite, a third-year epidemiology doctoral student, is preparing for the Miss Black USA pageant, to be held in Washington D.C. in August.

Wilhite takes many of the stereotypes about beauty queens and breaks them to pieces. Although she does have interests in fashion and beauty, she is also involved in mathematics and science.

Wilhite's platform for the pageant is mentoring black women through the promotion of math and science. If she wins the national title, she said she hopes to travel throughout the country to talk with students about their hopes, fears and career aspirations.

After determining what is on the minds of students at a particular school, Wilhite said she wants to work within the institution to help evaluate and create leadership programs.

"Overall, the goal is to encourage females to achieve the highest level of education necessary to achieve their goals, whether it's in liberal arts or science," Wilhite said.

A graduate of University High School in Tucson, Wilhite received her bachelor's degree from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans.

She returned to Tucson several years ago and entered the UA's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, where she received a master's degree in public health in December.

Even though she has only held the title for a short time, Wilhite said her work in the community has been very rewarding. She has attended events throughout the state, which allowed her to interact with Arizona's black community, such as the Tucson Urban League Gala and the Maricopa County NAACP Image Awards.

Wilhite said she has also been working to fulfill requirements for the pageant in August.

She's required to tutor for 40 hours and must also raise $1,000 for the Children's Miracle Network, which will benefit hospitals in Phoenix and Tucson.

Mary Roary, a third-year doctoral student in the College of Public Health, said she has known Wilhite since they began their studies together three years ago, and she is helping her raise money for the national pageant.

She said the state pageant was an easy win for Wilhite.

"She really had no competition," Roary said. "The young ladies in the competition couldn't touch her style, her grace, her intelligence."

Roary said Wilhite helps bring the women in their program together by organizing social and cultural activities, and if she wins the national title, she will serve as a positive role model for women and girls throughout the state and country.

"Girls everywhere will be able to say, 'I can do this. I can be beautiful and intelligent and not have to look a certain way,'" Roary said. "I think she brings that out of people."

Wilhite said she needs the support of the entire community, including the UA, when she attends nationals this summer, not just the minority community.

"Just as I'm proud to represent the state of Arizona, I need the state to support me," she said. "It's a state title. It's just the same as Miss Arizona."

As August creeps closer and closer, Miss Black Arizona is happy with how far she has come, and though she knows the competition at nationals will be stiff, the chance to represent herself and her state are one of the real rewards.

"I don't know if it's so much about going there to compete," she said. "I'm going there to let myself shine and represent myself to the best of my ability. I'm just happy that I have the opportunity."

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