Smithfield Senior named Miss Juneteenth

Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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The Miss Juneteenth USA Organization is letting the sun shine bright. 

Smithfield High School Student Sunshine Huggins and her family are celebrating as she was crowned 2023-2024 National Miss Juneteenth USA on Saturday, Oct. 14, following her competition with other national state contestants during the Miss Juneteenth Legacy Pageant. Along with winning the national crown, Huggins named Miss Juneteenth Virginia and made history as Virginia’s Inaugural Juneteenth Queen.

Describing the overall pageant, Virginia Miss Juneteenth Legacy Pageant Director Ebonie Seals says that it provides contestants with cultural awareness for African American women of color while promoting educational, professional and personal development. Seals says each contestant takes part in pageant categories revolving around participation, a 1500 word essay, talent showcase, and taking part in interviews.

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“Those are their categories, which is slightly different from Virginia. Virginia, we go a little bit more in depth because everyone knows you can’t have emancipation without Virginia. And so we require a Juneteenth project, the same essay, as well as all the girls go through mentorship workshops,” Seals said. “Going over different professional and personal athletes to help them not just in the pageant world, but in real world life. So, the girls are pretty well rounded by the time they get to nationals.”

Huggins took home trophies from four out of five categories: the Crown, Miss Congeniality, Miss Black Wall Street, and Talent. She talked positively about her experience in the pageant while also noting how contestants got to bond with each other despite the competition.

“For Miss Virginia, I loved it so much. Bonding over knowledge is one of my favorite things. I love learning, so being able to connect with my director on a level of history and that developing into a relationship outside of history was really cool. Because it was like, I’m learning, and I’m creating my little longtime aunties,” she said. “For the Miss Juneteenth USA pageant, I loved it because we went to Philadelphia, and seeing the culture there was amazing, and for us to be able to have a friendly competition that was my favorite part about the entire pageant. It was a lot of bonding. It wasn’t just like, ‘Oh competition, competition’ or like ‘you can’t have any fun or you can’t talk to your contestant, you can’t get to know them.’ I got to know them.”

From being quizzed at the hotel lobby to consistent practice of playing the harp, Huggins noted that with the help of both her family and Seals that, she was able to put a lot of work into competing in each category. Showcasing her talent as a harpist, Huggins covered Alicia Keys’ 2003 song “If I Ain’t Got You,” which got her the win for the Talent category.

“It just took a lot of persistence. All the days I was in Philadelphia, every single time I was dog tired, every single time I went in the room, I just practiced the song over and over again. So if my mind forgot the song, my hands didn’t, I could still play it without even thinking about it, and that’s what really helped me on stage,” Huggins said.

Dorothy Huggins and Maxine Flournoy, both Sunshine’s mother and grandmother, expressed how proud they are of her for winning both Miss Juneteenth Virginia and USA. Dorothy humorously expressed her surprise at seeing her daughter becoming both so quickly.

“To be very honest, for her to be both in such a short amount of time was like ‘What!’ Dorothy said with a laugh.

Flournoy says it was very “beautiful” seeing her granddaughter become Miss Juneteenth Virginia and USA.

“As a grandmother, I am very proud and thankful. Giving honor to God, I tell you, she was just magnificent. And I take my heart. I give my heart to Ms. Ebony for all her hard work with Sunshine. It’s just been a beautiful journey that I have enjoyed being a part of to get her to this point,” Flournoy said. “So I take my hat off. And thank Ms. Ebony, and I thank Sunshine!”

Dorothy says her daughter always wanted to play the harp and talked about how she started at six years old with a 10 string loop harp. She reflected on how her daughter helped her friends during the pandemic while realizing her passion for the harp.

“A lot of her friends would be struggling. Just being at home going through the things they were going through, isolating while they were home virtually taught. And Sunshine sometimes would sense that her friends were struggling. She’d just pull out her harp,” she said. “And then after the children returned to school, she said ‘Mom, I think that’s what I want to do. I want to do music therapy.’ And I knew that to be recognized at any school for music therapy on a collegiate level, she would need to have some classical training.”

Dorothy expressed their love and appreciation for Sunshine’s harp instructor for providing her daughter with classical training while helping her bring healing through her music. Seals described wanting Huggins and her fellow contestants to take their historical lessons into their individual communities.

“Because we are living in a time now where the African American experience is not as fluent as it could be. And so I tell everyone here in Virginia that I am determined to touch every heart that I can to be the Messenger to tell them the story of us, meaning all of us. Because our shared communities, we have to find a way to build a bridge between communities. But before we can do that, we have to know who we are as a people and what we went through so we can make a better decision going forward to heal from things that have been broken.”

On representing Smithfield, Sunshine says that representing the town has been an “honor.”

“It’s been my home for two years now. And I’ve loved building memories of my mom and my brother there. My mom works right across the street, so me and my brother are always going over to see her,” Huggins said. “It’s just a really homey place. I love Smithfield.”

Finally, on any young girls who see her as Miss Juneteenth, she says she wants them to see her and “be inspired.”

“That’s always been my biggest dream … So, for them to be able to look up to me and see me as an inspiration is, honestly, heart-touching. Because I used to be that little girl looking up at somebody else, so for someone to be looking up at me is an honor,” she said. “I just want them to be able to feel strong when they see me, feel confident when they see me, feel smart when they see me. I want them to have a role model in me and also, I want to learn how to be [a] role model for them. Overall, I just want to inspire those young girls to one, to learn their history and two, understand how powerful as black young women, or just young women in general.”