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A model Miss America: as an outspoken abstinence advocate, the reigning Miss America, 22-year-old Erika Harold, hopes to be a positive role model for today's young people. (Cultural Currents).

Parents and others concerned about the dearth of constructive role models for America's youth received a boost on September 21st. On that date, Miss Illinois, 22-year-old Erika Harold of Urbana, was crowned Miss America 2003 at the 82nd annual pageant in Atlantic City.

For many years, Miss Harold has carried a message urging pre-marital chastity to Illinois youngsters. She has made this plea under the auspices of Glenview-based Project Reality, a pioneer in the field of abstinence education. She has spoken to more than 14,000 students in classrooms, at rallies, and on one occasion at a correctional facility. She organized an abstinence-oriented essay and poster contest for middle-schoolers, and has met with state legislators and other public officials to share her views on abstinence and other issues affecting children and teens. She is also pro-life.

Value-based Background

Miss Harold, the oldest daughter of Robert Harold Jr. and Donna Tanner-Harold, is part black and part American Indian. She was home schooled through the fourth grade and is a 2001 Phi Beta Kappa graduate (political science and pre-law) of the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana. She was accepted by five top law schools for this year's fall semester, eventually opting for Harvard Law School. But she will now wait until next year to enroll, after completing her reign as Miss America. A three-time National Dean's List honoree, she earned a place on USA Today's 2000 All-USA College Academic Second Team, which honors the nation's top undergraduate scholar-leaders.

After winning the Miss Land of Lincoln contest earlier this year, Miss Harold reportedly considered foregoing the next step on the road to Miss America, believing that judges were unlikely to choose an outspoken conservative and abstinence advocate as Miss Illinois. She nevertheless entered and won the contest, with "Teenage Sexual Abstinence -- Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself" as her platform issue. An accomplished mezzo soprano soloist, she placed first in the preliminary talent competition with the aria "La'Mour" from Bizet's "Carmen." She has studied voice for six years and has performed arias and art songs in six languages. She also received the Jim Price Memorial Community Service Award and the Miss America Community Service Award. Her sister Alexandra, 20, placed third runner-up in the event, and received the Miss America Scholar Award.

While required to adopt the state pageant organization's official platform issue of prevention of teen violence for the Miss America competition, Erika continued to advocate her abstinence-until-marriage message as part of it. She also encouraged other Miss America contestants to join her in promoting the abstinence message in their own states. The October 9th Washington Times noted that "Miss Harold said abstinence education is an important component of youth-violence prevention because violence is directly related to sexual permissiveness and promiscuity."

In Atlantic City, Miss Harold won the important interview competition and placed among the top 10 in the "Presence and Poise in Evening Wear," "On Stage Knowledge and Awareness," and "Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit" categories. Those accomplishments established her as one of two top favorites for the ultimate prize.

Crowned With Determination

On October 8th, Miss Holden visited Washington for the first time since being crowned Miss America. Her speech and press conference at the National Press Club were sponsored by "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids," a Washington-based organization for which she has become a national spokeswoman. The group includes more than 1,500 police chiefs and sheriffs, and about 200 victims of violence.

During the news conference prior to her speech, she revealed, as reported by George Archibald in the next day's Washington Times, that Miss America "pageant officials have ordered her not to talk publicly about sexual abstinence." She was quoted as saying "I will not be bullied," insisting: "I would hate to think that there are kids all over the country who now wonder, you know, 'Did I make the right decision in making that commitment, if this person who inspired me to do it no longer is willing to share that commitment on the national stage?' And so I would feel a hypocrite if I did not." She said that she felt "very, very fortunate" that she "had parents ... [and] a faith community who reinforced this decision, and I was able to speak about this. I didn't take the route of becoming promiscuous; I took the route of reaffirming what I believed was right and stood for it. And I was very fortunate to be able to speak to thousands of young people about this."

Her principled stance had an immediate impact on pageant officials. In a follow-up story published in the next day's Times, Archibald reported: "Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, announced in Illinois yesterday that she has won her battle with pageant officials over the right to talk about teen sexual chastity" as part of her youth-violence prevention platform. "I don't think the pageant organizers really understood how much I am identified with the abstinence message," she reiterated: "If I don't speak about it now as Miss America, I will be disappointing the thousands of young people throughout Illinois who need assurance that waiting until marriage for sex is the right thing to do."
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Author:Lee, Robert W.
Publication:The New American
Date:Nov 18, 2002
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