Black History Month 2020: Janelle “Penny” Commissiong
Who is Janelle “Penny” Commissiong? The first Black woman to ever be crowned Miss Universe.
And wait for the best part … she competed for the title as Miss Trinidad & Tobago. That’s right! She’s Trinidadian!
And I know you’re probably thinking that winning a beauty pageant is not a big deal but I have to remind you that this was all the way back in 1977 where eurocentric standards of beauty ruled the day.
Four days before the crowning, Janelle was the first Black woman to be voted Miss Photogenic. But still she wasn’t the favourite to win. It was quite the upset! In her biography she talks about how much international attention she got as a result and how she brought the spotlight to our island that many people hadn’t heard of before.
For the U.S. and Asian media especially she was a particularly interesting topic. This made her in demand around the globe as a speaker both during & after her reign.
So what did she do with her crown and her platform? She spoke up publicly and advocated for Black rights in nations where people of African ancestry were minorities and also worked tirelessly for world peace. That last part does make me smile because it’s very “beauty queen”.
Janelle went on to adopt a daughter and when asked what ideas of physical beauty she wanted to impart she replied “I hope she looks up to me for things other than beauty.” I don’t know if there is anything more to say than that.
If you’re non-Trini, don’t forget to tell me in the comments if you had heard of Janelle “Penny” Commissiong before today. I really wanted throughout this journey to highlight historical figures who aren’t at the front of mind & consciousness.
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