Fourteen-year-old Cydney Hopkins broke out of her shell while taking lessons at MzB's dance studio on Hamilton Road.
Now she's preparing to share her talent at an upcoming beauty pageant for black and Hispanic girls.
"Right now she's at that age where she's starting to think about what she's going to do and what she's going to be and I just want to keep her positive," said her mother, Anetra Strickland. "I remember when she was just born, and now she's this young lady. She puts on these dresses and I watch her dance. It's just an amazing time right now."
Hopkins will be a contestant in the inaugural Miss Ebony Columbus Scholarship Pageant, which will be held at 3 p.m. May 4 at Columbus State University in University Hall. The event, for girls ages 4-17, is the brainchild of a group of black entrepreneurs who saw a need for more positive activities for black and Hispanic girls in the community. The categories are Little Miss, ages 4-6; Jr. Miss, ages 7-9; Pre-Teen Miss, ages 10-12; and Teen Miss, 13-17. Twenty-four girls have registered. The Grand Supreme winners from each category will receive an academic scholarship, represent their community at various events and compete on a national level, organizers said.
Event sponsors include Columbus State University NAACP Chapter, the Wright Legal Group, MzB's Studio Inc. and the NB public relations agency. Special guests will include Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Miss Columbus Willietta Grant, Miss Tri-City Latino Tanamai Ramos and Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader Tiffany Moore, according to a news release.
But the pageant is not all about physical beauty, said Nicole Buffong, founder and CEO of the NB public relations agency. She said it's also about building character, and each contestant is required to complete 20 hours of community service. Last weekend, the group participated in #hashtaglunchbag, a California-inspired program to feed the homeless. In Columbus, the girls made sandwiches, packed lunch bags, scribbled a positive note on each bag and then distributed them to people living on the streets.
Eleven-year-old Adamari Rivera and her 9-year-old sister, Jazmine, both participated in the event. Rivera said she wrote "With God all things are possible" and "Jesus Loves You" to encourage the homeless.
"We handed the bags to them and they were thankful," she said. "One (homeless person) sang a song to us and that made me feel happy."
Jazmine said the pageant is exciting because she likes helping people and dressing up in nice clothes, something she said she does at home when she wants to feel like a princess.
Their mother, Elizabeth Lopez, said the family moved to Columbus from Orlando about a year ago. Last year, they participated in the area's first Tri-City Latino Festival, which also had a pageant, but her daughters were too young to be contestants. Barryne "MzB" Richardson, founder and artistic director of MzB's Studio Inc., helped with the Latino event. As one of the main sponsors of the Miss Ebony pageant, she invited Lopez' daughters to join, and they agreed without hesitation.
"It's a good opportunity for Hispanics and African-Americans to come together," said Lopez, an event planner helping to promote and organize the pageant. "And it's a positive workshop for girls coming up now-a-days. Anything that's positive in the community, I'm all for it."
Lee Ann Miller said her 8-year-old daughter, Tyann, always wanted to be in a pageant.
"She likes doing her nails and girly things," Miller said of her daughter. "If it's not a dress, she doesn't want to be in it. I just think it's a great opportunity and the fact that it's African-American means she could learn more about her heritage."
Richardson, also a local radio personality, said children are bombarded by media images that define beauty as Eurocentric, and the pageant is about appreciating the natural beauty of all races.
"We want little black girls and little Latino girls to embrace who they are," she said. "Everybody doesn't have the long straight, 'pretty' hair as everybody calls it. So we want to embrace the natural hair. We want to embrace our skin tones.
"We want to make it glitzy and glamorous," she said. "It's a pageant. But, at the same time, we want them to understand that this is who you are. Love yourself first, then maybe by the time you get to be 18 to 30 years old, you will be confident as a black or Latino female in America."
Strickland, Hopkins' mother, said when she was growing up she wasn't interested in pageants.
"I was too shy, back then and there was no way you could've gotten me up on a stage," she said. "I would have died of fright."
But she's glad to see her daughter seizing the moment and scaling new heights.
"Some young girls define themselves by the limited opportunities around them," she said. "I think the more you expose them to the arts and these types of events, they begin to see that their world is not just this small little bubble. There's more out there to reach for."