vanessa-charles_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS – Vanessa Charles’ already packed schedule just became busier.

In addition to being ranked number five in her senior class, serving as president of Miami Norland’s student government, captain of its softball team, president of the Future Business Leaders of America, club manager of the Thespian Honor Society, and junior vice mayor for the city of Miami Gardens, Charles was crowned Miss Miami Gardens before an enthusiastic crowd last Saturday night, Feb. 21.

The pageant, which took place at the Lou Rawls Performing Arts Center at Florida Memorial University, featured 10 young women vying for the chance to pocket a $2,500 scholarship, the honor of becoming the city’s fourth queen, and the opportunity to represent the state’s largest predominantly black municipality at the Miss Florida pageant in July.

Charles and her parents, Ediane and Velius Charles, spoke to the South Florida Times about her victory at Miami Gardens’ City Hall on Monday, Feb. 23.

Joining them were Miami Gardens’ Councilman Melvin L. Bratton and the city’s events and media coordinator, Ula Zucker.

A late entry into the pageant, Charles said she entered the competition just a few weeks ago at the urging of Vice Mayor Barbara Watson.

Despite financial issues that threatened to derail her participation, Charles said “everything ended up coming together.”

“I was very proud, very proud of her,” said her mother, who also hinted at some of the special treatment that being queen has already afforded her daughter.

“When she came from school, her bed was already made. I never do that for her,” Ediane Charles added.

Her father said, “I was very, very happy to hear number ten,” Velius Charles said of his only daughter’s designation as the tenth contestant, and as the winner.

The competition included all the usual pageantry fare. The women modeled swimsuits and evening gowns, and displayed their talent through routines that included singing, dancing and memorized monologues.

Each contestant demonstrated an ability to “think on her feet” by answering an impromptu question posed by Miss America 2004, Erica Dunlap.

Charles’ response to Dunlap’s question regarding Michelle Obama’s impact on the country was that the first lady is a positive black woman who leads by example. To demonstrate her talent, the 17-year old Sunday school teacher performed a spirited liturgical dance to the gospel song, “Hallelujah” by Mary, Mary.

Upon hearing her name announced as the winner, Charles said she felt relieved. Although she admitted to a bit of nervousness before the start of the pageant, Charles said her adrenaline kicked in once the show started.

“As soon as I was done [with one portion of the show] and I got dressed back stage, I was ready to get back on,” she said.

Charles’ platform is youth empowerment, an ambitious goal that she said will include motivating “this generation to do better. Instead of just focusing on all the latest dance moves, having them to focus on their future.”

Her proud parents were in the audience with Vanessa’s three older brothers, one of whom she said asked her a humbling post-victory question that only a brother could.

“My brother asked me if I was going to take off my crown to wash the dishes,” Vanessa laughed.

As Miss Miami Gardens, Charles will attend as many of the city’s functions that her busy schedule will allow.

“Her first major engagement is going to be Jazz in the Gardens,” Zucker said, referring to the March 28 and 29 concert hosted by radio personality Tom Joyner at Dolphin Stadium in the city.

In addition to representing the five-year old city as often as she can, Charles said she will spend her time preparing to attend the University of Florida in the fall, “spreading my platform issue and preparing for Miss Florida in July.”

Unwittingly giving voice to the positive impact of a father’s presence in a woman’s life, Velius Charles said of Vanessa, “She’s the baby and the only daughter I have. I love her. She knows that I love her. I also tell her, whatever she wants to do, I’m there for her.”

Photo by Night Life Photo Guys, Inc. Vanessa Charles