Frankie Stewart, Ms. Senior America 1996
How does one capture on paper the incredulity, excitement and fulfillment of this pageant year? Start at the beginning? But where did it all begin? Paris, Tennessee - a small southern town that set limitations on me by my simply being black and female?
Graduation with honors from high school and college, husband, babies to fulfill my dreams or perhaps relocating to Los Angeles, California - a bright sunlit world where streets are paved with gold?
For the sake of brevity let's say it began when my youngest son (LeJohn) encouraged, no demanded my involvement in an arena totally foreign to me - and more frightening, for elderly ("old") women! Like many others I saw pageants (at any age) in a very negative light. When he audaciously predicted I would win I was completely taken aback! This indeed was an overwhelming position to contemplate - so let's begin with overwhelming.
Overwhelming to be crowned Ms. Senior California and head for Biloxi, MS competing in a geographical area that holds many painful memories for black women of my generation. However, the depth of hospitality extended to me was a depiction of the new genteel south.
Overwhelming - to interact with 40 women with different lifestyles, cultures and outlooks thrown together in what can only be described as an intimate environment and discovering the commonalities we share in spite of our differences. Women of our era, no matter the ethnicity, have experienced deaths of loved ones, divorce, illnesses, retirement etc. But a source of strength (Faith) inexplicably bound us together and as we bonded we somehow knew we would be sisters for life.
Overwhelming! How this intelligent, vivacious group set about debunking myths about aging and refusing to accept labels such as "over the hill", "over done: and just plain old."
Overwhelming to recognize that "I must be the representative of my sisters and they only give the best and would not accept any less than the best from me.
The honor of serving as Ms. Senior America catapulted me into mainstream America to share not only my story but the struggles, victories and stories of these women who continue to play an active and vital role on the stage of life.
During the year we've visited and been honored in many cities while local pageants occur - spoken at numerous schools, senior centers, churches, TV and radio stations. Some highlights with emotionally challenged children in high school in Orswell, CA. visiting a senior wellness center in Washington, D.C., speaking with elementary children during a writing clinic in Wilmington, DE, interacting with a group of college students at Marshall College in Ashville, N.C., a visit to the "Villages on Lady Lake." FL. (The ideal of heaven on earth)speaking with elementary students at my grandchildren's school, and recognition by the city of Carson with a Frankie Stewart Day. (A key to the city, no less), a trip to the beautiful Virgin Islands, to Birmingham, AL, and then to Las Vegas and on and on!
I have used my speaking and singing voice, my pride and demeanor across the country to dramatically demonstrate what Ms. Senior America is all about - this woman of "Inner Beauty" and the Age of Elegance, this new 60 plus woman of the 90's. As we approach the new Millennium, Ms. Senior America will be a force to be reckoned with.
The difficulty of capturing on paper the culmination of this year is impossible, because culmination means to reach the highest point! The Ms Senior America movement has yet to reach it's apex - we go on - God continues to bless me and I have a living memory in my head and emblazoned on my heart because of these blessings. If in some small I've been an instrument that touched lives in a positive view, then I feel a great sense of accomplishment as I continue celebrating this outstanding group of women I am proud to call "Sistahs."
My sincere thanks to all of you for your support as I've sought to keep my focus on all that we were, all that we are and all that we are to become - my parting proclamation is EXCELSIOR ONWARD EVER UPWARD.