erica-dunlap_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS – A new queen will be crowned on Saturday night at the third annual Miss Miami Gardens Scholarship Pageant.

The five-year-old city began the pageant in 2007 as a way to showcase and reward the area’s best and brightest – and afford them an opportunity at even greater acclaim.

Because the scholarship pageant is a franchise partner of the acclaimed Miss America Organization, the winner of Saturday’s contest at Florida Memorial University’s Lou Rawls Performing Arts Center will advance to the Miss Florida Pageant.

If she’s successful at the state level, the winner will move on to compete for the coveted Miss America title.

Erica Dunlap, the first black Miss Florida, has already traveled the path to the national crown. The Orlando native snagged the Miss America title in 2004 and will be on hand for Saturday’s pageant to offer support to the young contestants.

She’ll be joined by actress and producer Tangi Miller, a Miami Gardens native who will serve as a guest judge.  Miller, who played Elena Tyler in the hit TV show “Felicity” and starred in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion, said giving back to her hometown is essential.

Determined to spend more time in the city, Miller said she contacted Miami Gardens officials to find out how she could be supportive. When officials invited her to participate in the pageant, she jumped at the opportunity.

Ula Zucker, the city’s media and events coordinator, said the pageant is far from the typical beauty contest.

“We saw an opportunity to provide an outlet for young women in Miami Gardens to receive funds for scholarship as well as to exposure outside of Miami Gardens,” Zucker said of the city’s decision to implement the pageant two years ago.

In addition to serving as a judge, Miller said she’s planning to provide hands-on support to young ladies in Miami Gardens. Miller said she wants to specifically help young women feel comfortable in a variety of situations – whether at a formal dinner or applying for a job.

“A lot of times they fall in between the cracks of the interview, getting the job, keeping the job and fitting into the work place,” the Miami Edison graduate explained. 

Miller told the South Florida Times during a telephone interview from her Los Angeles home that she is strengthening her ties to Miami Gardens via her film work, as well.  She has filmed two movies in the city – “My Girlfriend’s Back, in which she stars with Malik Yoba and CCH Pounder, slated for a summer release.

Of the pageant, Miller said, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the young women to realize their potential and to get a taste of what the world can offer them.

This year’s contestants include college and high school students ranging in age from 17 to 24.

They are: Janey Tate, Jasmine Jackson, Vanessa Charles, Tequila Graham, Ieasshma Grant, Rosie Justilien, Aminah Lacy, Kimberly McDonald, Marie Simon and Charita Walker.
Zucker said each contestant must have a community platform and will be judged in categories that showcase their talent, beauty and intellect. 

The winner of the pageant will receive a $2,500 college scholarship, with a shot at a $10,000 prize at the state competition, which takes place on July 11 in St. Petersburg.

There is also a $50,000 grand prize at the Miss America contest, which will take place in January 2010 in Las Vegas.

Photo: Ericka Dunlap


WHAT: Miss Miami Gardens Scholarship Pageant.

WHERE: Florida Memorial University’s Lou Rawls Performing Arts Auditorium, 15800 NW 42nd Ave, Miami Gardens.

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 21, at 7:00 p.m.

COST: $10.00 per person.

CONTACT: Visit or contact Ula Zucker at 305-622-8035 or