Story by Eunice Nicholson and Photos by Grant Meeks
When Gibson was eight, she asked her mother Caroline, for piano lessons. “I don’t remember this, but my mother said I banged and banged on my toy keyboard and begged her to let me learn how to play,” Gibson said with a chuckle.
Money was hard to come by, but her mother said yes.
As a teenager, Gibson kept a journal in which she transformed her dreams into written goals. Her list: be crowned in a black beauty pageant, own her own performing arts school, graduate from college and become a public speaker.
With the encouragement of some school friends, she entered her first pageant while in high school at the age of 17. “I shocked myself,” she said. “I discovered that I was an awesome speaker.”
In the fall of 2003, Gibson enrolled at Texas Woman’s University in Denton where she majored in music education and developed her skills as a classical pianist. During her sophomore year she spent time working with inner-city teenage girls.
Gibson could relate to these girls. Although lovingly raised by her mother, she was confused and hurt by the fact that she grew up without a father – a reality shared by many young girls she met. Gibson was determined to help them realize their full potential. She loved this work so much that at 19, she founded More Than a Pretty Face Inc., a mentoring program for young urban girls.
“I really fell in love with being able to motivate girls – to help them make healthy choices.”
The other significant decision Gibson made during her sophomore year at college was to enter the Miss Black Texas pageant. Although she had to put two heart-breaking, second runner-up attempts behind her, with the encouragement of her mother, she did not give up.
“I felt I had the potential. I prayed about it and decided to give it one more try.” Gibson entered the competition for a third time in 2010 and this time, was crowned Miss Black Texas.
With significant pageant experience and a college degree, Gibson was becoming more confident in herself and her abilities.
She began to feel that her talent for speaking and her passion for helping others would fit well as the national spokesperson for the Heart Truth Campaign, the national platform of the Miss Black USA pageant and scholarship foundation. The Heart Truth Campaign – part of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – is committed to increasing awareness about heart disease among women.
She entered the pageant and in August, 26-year-old Gibson was crowned Miss Black USA 2011.
Gibson explained that from the moment she was crowned, she had to be “Miss Black USA ready.” According to Miss Black USA Founder and CEO, Karen Arrington, this is the pageant’s motto. It means, “It’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond.”
She wasn’t kidding. On the night Gibson was crowned, a reception followed. She celebrated with friends and family until the early morning hours. Then Arrington told her she had to be dressed and prepared for a 5:00 a.m. television interview with FOX News. Gibson was surprised, but knew she could be ready. With only one hour of sleep, she showed up for the interview prepared and on time.
“I was so excited and tired,” she admitted. “But I always do my best.”
Looking back at her time as Miss Black USA, Gibson said she is grateful for many things. She has met amazing people, spoken out about causes she is passionate about, earned scholarship money, traveled and has grown emotionally and spiritually.
But what has meant the most about this experience so far is that she has further realized her potential.
“I’ve always dreamed about being on a national platform. Speaking on behalf of the Heart Truth Campaign has broadened the scope of what I can achieve. I believe I can help make a difference in the lives of others.”
Gibson’s pageant experience has helped her become more organized too.
“Being Miss Black USA has also forced me to hone my organizational skills,” she said with a grin. “I’ve learned how to pack a carry-on suitcase for a four-day trip! That’s pretty good, especially for a beauty queen!”
While fulfilling her duties as Miss Black USA, Gibson has also managed a career. She serves as the School Outreach Coordinator for the Turn Around Agenda, a social outreach of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. Her job is to organize mentoring programs, life skills education, assemblies and family support services for local schools.
This summer when her reign concludes, her life journal will include a new list of dreams she will transform into goals:
“I will use my scholarship award to complete my master’s degree and continue expanding the work I do with young women through More Than a Pretty Face Inc.,” she said. “I plan to do more speaking and complete my first book.”
Gibson wants to write books that empower young women. She said there are not enough books that have a spiritual perspective geared toward young urban women. She hopes to fill that void.
No matter what role she takes on, Ocielia Gibson, Miss Black USA 2011, will always be “Miss Black USA ready.”
Eunice Nicholson is a freelance journalist and editor who resides in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.