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TeKema Balentine wears more than just her Miss Black Wisconsin crown. Balentine, a Madison native and a 2012 graduate of East High School, wears many other hats, too. At age 25 she is a nursing student, coach of a high school track team, part-time caretaker in home health through BrightStar Care, a model and a committee member of Wisconsin PATCH (Providers and Teens Communicating for Health), an organization that aims to bridge the communication gap between teens and health care providers. She hopes by participating in pageants, she will demonstrate to young girls that they can have academic ambitions, career goals and all the “glitz and glam.” Balentine looks forward to competing Aug. 7 in the Miss Black USA pageant in Washington D.C. The scholarship pageant allows women of color to “own their power” and celebrate their beauty. Here is an edited Q&A with Balentine.
One of your pageant platforms focuses on the opportunity gap between black and white students in Wisconsin. What made you decide to focus on this issue?
My main focus is the education gap because I grew up in the Madison Public Schools and I was in a lot of AP classes or accelerated courses, but I had no peers who shared the same skin color as me. I didn’t come from the same background or similar background as the peers I was in class with. When I went home I had to think of my three siblings I had to take care of. I had to make dinner or I was responsible for picking up my siblings. It became difficult for me to network with other people who were in the same level of academics. I found myself studying alone, doing things alone. I had good friends but we had way different expectations outside of school. I think it is really important that no matter what level of education a child is in, that they should always have support in and outside of school. I feel like it comes from home and then it trails to school. So if we had more resources for young children, maybe there wouldn’t be such a large education gap.
In a competition, you are judged on five criteria, one of them being your talent. What is yours?
I will be singing a classical Italian piece. I chose that because I sang the same song when I was a junior in high school and I got good at solo ensemble. I thought it would be different — it’s not only classical, but Italian on top of that. Not many people can sing in Italian.
What do you want young girls who look up to you to know?
As a high-jump track coach, I see lots of girls. You’ve got some girls who are very focused on their academics; they are very fixated on how they can do better in school. Then you have other girls who are not thinking about their academics at all. They are athletic, some of them are very pretty girls and their mindset is, “How can I get rich now and not really have to use my brain?” They don’t feel like they have the brain capacity to do whatever they want. I want to be an example to girls to show that you can have the glitz and glam and you can also have a career. Just because you like shiny, pretty things doesn’t mean that you don’t have priorities. I want girls to know that there can always be a healthy median between the two.
Mackenzie Krumme is a Madison writer and a former intern at Madison Magazine.