For the past 34 years, hundreds of young men and young women have been positively impacted thanks to the annual Miss Black Ardmore Scholarship Pageant program.

The program features two state pageants, as well as a young men and youth program. It teaches participants confidence, determination, goal setting, public speaking skills and encourages all to pursue higher education, says pageant founder Mary Johnson.

“Pageants are so much more than just beauty,” Johnson says. “It is about intelligence and developing self-esteem. It teaches them to try new things and instills confidence.

Once you have confidence, no one can take that away.”

Contestants will take the stage beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday at the H.F.V. Wilson Community Center as part of the 35th annual Miss Black Ardmore Scholarship Pageant. The program is open to the community, and tickets are $15.

Five young ladies will compete for the main title, and eight youths are vying for the teen title. Both are state pageants, with the winner advancing to represent Ardmore against ladies across the Sooner state.

Contestants will compete in the categories of sportswear, talent and evening wear.

At the pageant program, young ladies are participating as pages, and young men are contending for the title of Junior Debonair.

The participants are after more than just titles and prizes. All participants are offered a tuition scholarship with Langston University, which has been a supporter of the pageant since the inaugural event in 1979, says Johnson, who is known by many in the community as “the Fox.”

“Any child, may they be a winner or loser, takes home a tuition scholarship from Langston University,” said Johnson, who is a teacher at Ardmore Middle School. “When I started this pageant, I wanted them to have something tangible. Prizes and awards are great. But I wanted to help them go to college.”

Johnson said the first pageant was in 1979 at the former Douglass High School auditorium. The pageant was established after Johnson spoke to Clara Luper, the woman credited with starting the civil rights movement in the state. Luper asked Johnson to start a scholarship pageant for young women in the area.

“She knew I worked with kids in southern Oklahoma,” Johnson said. “With her encouragement and determination, I started the pageant to help kids learn leadership and receive scholarships for college.”

The pageant program has expanded since the first pageant. Mr. Debonair was added to give young men the same opportunity as the Miss Black Ardmore contestants. Later, a teen competition and a youth program, called page for grade school-aged children, were added.

During the past 34 years, Johnson says past participants have moved on to college, becoming lawyers, judges, teachers, youth pastors, nurses and leaders in their communities. Some remain in Ardmore today.

“I follow them through the years,” Johnson says. “I support and encourage them in any way.”

In recent years, Johnson has seen past participants coming back with their children and teens interested in joining the pageant program. She says the parents are seeking “the Fox experience,” which helps prepare the children for more than the pageant. She prepares them for every stage of life.

“I enjoy seeing them develop, seeing them grow, seeing them become motivated and seeing them go on to college or into their career,” Johnson says. “I see them succeed. I enjoy seeing them become the person they want to be.”

Ladies competing for the Miss Black Ardmore title are Esther Chatman, Charity Diann Halstied, Kiana Rochelle Rambo, Alexandria Monique Millbrooks and Aleigha Hamilton. Those in the teen pageant are SyDairea Hamilton, Destanee Nikkole McGee, Eshauriah Letaja Staley, Sakeithia L. Anderson, Serenity Christina Cohee, LaTavia Monique Jackson, Gianna LaShelle Toomer and Mya Halstied.

Pages are Jereiyah Fundora, Madisyn Halstied, Akira Prather, Hannah Fields, Essence Williams, Lanisha Bryant, Zariyah Gilbreath, Courtney Cheater, Khyzhai Rapier, Elaiyah Staley, Kiara Adair, Rjhani Halstied, Maliya Metzger, India Scott, Alie Lewis, Ashanti Scott, J’Licia Smith, Jade Russell, Destiny Willisamson, Lyric Mayfield and Violet Halstied. Escorts are Darius Turner, JaMarcus Mills, Dereques Jones Jr. and Jerod L. Gregoire. The Jr. Debonairs are Darnell Jefferson, Dontez Fagan, Christopher Brown, Darius Chatman, DaVonta Anderson and Amir Mills.