Aysha Cooper showing off her three titles
Hello Ayesha, first congratulations on your title and thank you for doing this interview. It's only one day so it's still fresh. How does it feel to be Ms. Global US 2010 ? Did it sink in yet?
I'm still trying to process it all. I love being Ms. Global US 2012, Miss Global America 2012, and Ms. Global America US 2012. I feel like I have split personalities!! Sometimes I don't know what to call myself.
Can you tell us about your background? Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was born and raised in Camden, NJ (an area infested with drugs, crime, and poverty and according to FBI statistics, the most dangerous city in the US in 2004, 2005, and 2009). I went to various elementary schools in Camden until moving to Magnolia, NJ and attended Magnolia Public School. This was a complete culture shock to me. Coming from a predominately African-American and Hispanic community to a predominately Caucasian community. Upon finishing Magnolia Public School, I went to Sterling High School and graduated in 1996. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Media Studies from Radford University in 2000. I am currently employed at a credit union as a loan officer. I started performing on stage at the age of 2 and was a dancer trained in tap, ballet, and jazz for 15 years.
Can you explain the difference between the predominantly African American/Hispanic school and the Caucasian?
Going to a predominately African American/Hispanic school I felt at home, more comfortable. Everyone looked like me. We were all in the same situation, an over-crowded school, eating free lunches because no could afford to pay. When I moved to suburbs, I felt like a fish out of water. I was isolated and in the beginning I was treated very poorly by both the students and the teachers.
Why did you decided to do this? Was this your first pageant?
I have been competing in pageants since the age of 12 because my mother wanted me to gain more poise and confidence since I was tall, skinny, wore braces, and glasses. I've held local, state, and national titles. In 1995, I broke racial barriers by becoming the first and only African-American to win the title of Miss Magnolia. I gave up competing for 14 years and decided to get back into it because I figured the title would help me raise money and awareness for my charities. After entering the American Queen Pageant in 2009 and finishing a disappointing 5th place, I was determined to enter a pageant once again and this time capture the crown! I guess that's my competitive side. It's also a lot of fun competing against and meeting different women from all walks of life. I still keep in touch with a lot of the girls I have competed against.
Ayesha in Zimbabwe
What was the toughest challenge during the pageant and which one was the easiest for you?
The toughest challenge during the pageant is having to talk in front of the judges, I get so tongue tied. The easiest part is the modeling, all I have to do is be quiet and walk. When I have on that killer outfit, I feel so confident, like nothing can stop me.
What was the subject when you talked to the judges? Do they give you a subject or can you choose?
When entering a pageant, you have to submit a judge's information sheet and the majority of the conversation is based on that. I usually wind up talking about my travel and giving nutrition and workout advice.
Who did you think was your biggest competition and why?
A lot of the women I competed against in All American System and other pageants fit the more typical profile of a pageant competitor. They were all very talented, accomplished, and had straight hair, so I was very intimidated.
I don't want to disrespect other contestants for their choice but I have been very curious about this; is it normal for contestants to wear weaves? How many of the participants had weaves? A large majority of the contestants had some kind of weave, hair extensions, or a hair piece. Hair enhancements go along with pageants just like fake eye lashes.
Were you the only one natural and did you feel that you were looked at differently as a natural or do the contestants support one another?
I was the only natural contestant. All of the contestants supported each other. The director said to me, "This look works for you. You are tall, lean, exotic, and interesting. If I saw 30 contestants lined up all looking the same. A 6 ft African-American woman with locked hair is going to stand out to me." Another contestant told me, "You proved that natural beauty can be mainstream. I wish I had the heart to go natural."
Why do you think other women don't have the courage to go natural and where did you get the courage?
I think other women are afraid to go natural because they are worried about what everyone will think. They think their lives and jobs will be affected negatively and it doesn't have to be that way! Also I think it comes from the confidence you have within yourself. When I first saw Sisterlocks, I fell in love! I knew they were for me when saw how happy other women including my own mother were. I had a lot of support from my consultant Ann Kapciuch, my friends, and family. My confidence has never been higher. I get approached by men a lot more now then I ever did!
Ayesha you volunteer for Habitat For Humanity. May I ask what motivates you to do this?
Ever since the age of 8, I've always liked helping others. My first volunteer project was organizing a group of neighborhood kids and we went door to door raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. No one asked me to do it, and I remember feeling very satisfied afterwards. In addition to my work with Habitat's Global Village Program, I am also a volunteer GED tutor, I work with the Capital Area Food Bank, I speak to youth groups, and volunteer with Reston Interfaith. I volunteer because I can. I've always wanted to change the world since I was young and volunteering allows me to do so.
You love traveling as well. With Habitat For Humanity you have been to Alaska, Cambodia, Zambia, and New Zealand to build houses. Can you tell us what was special about each place?
Alaska was very beautiful, the weather was perfect and not many people can say they worked on a construction site next bears! This was my first build and I was very surprised by the diversity in Anchorage. We were building homes for Dominican, African, and Samoian families. Cambodia was my first trip out of the United States in a while. It was extremely hot and I got a nasty sunburn. This build was back to basics, we did not use any power tools and we mixed the cement by hand. Zambia was really special because I had always wanted to go to Africa and we actually lived in the village while building the homes. The residents of Katete opened their homes and hearts to us. I felt like I lived there my whole life. New Zealand I felt an instant connection because one of the homeowners has a degenerative kidney disease and had two unsuccessful transplants. He and his family needed a home to fit all of his dialysis equipment.
Currently my father is waiting for a liver transplant so I had this feeling that fate brought me to New Zealand to help this family since I have no control over my dad's situation.
Your hair looks fabulous. O how I love the crown on top of those locs. When and why did you start locking?
Thank you. I had been wearing braided extensions for the past 10 years and was getting tired of it all but I didn't want to go back to relaxing. My schedule is extremely packed with work, appearances, volunteer work, workouts, photo shoots. Plus I am lazy and couldn't see myself fussing over a hairstyle every day. My mom got her locks done first and I never really considered it until she suggested I get them. Another person had suggested locks to me before but I was only used to the much larger locks that are more commonly known. I had a fear that they would be too heavy and I also wanted some diversity. Once I did the research on my own, and I came across Sisterlocks (created by Dr. Joanne Cornwell), I saw pictures of Dr. Cornwell wearing different styles and looking so carefree I knew Sisterlocks were for me. My consultant Ann Kapciuch in Waldorf,MD was very knowledgeable and helpful. I came home to Sisterlocks 2 years ago and I haven't looked back since!
Have you ever relaxed your hair? If yes, why did you stop processing it? I started relaxing my hair at the age of 12. I wanted to do it because everyone else was and living in a predominately white suburban area, I felt a lot of pressure to look like them. I remember thinking that my hair felt dead and dry. I thought to myself why do people do this? But I wanted to fit in so I continued doing it. I decided to break free when I graduated from college, I felt that was the perfect time for new beginnings.
Now for some women who decide to transition it's a real process because their environment is not necessarily positive about natural hair. Did you experience negativity from your friends and family?
My mother and a lot of my family and friends are locked or natural so I had a huge network of support and encouragement.
Did you experience any negativity about going natural at all and if so, how did you handle it? I worried at first how I would be perceived at work. But my coworkers were very supportive. They do not know that I have locs until I tell them!
You are a Triple Crown winner. Can you explain that? I am a Triple Crown Winner because I currently hold three national crowns. I currently Miss Global America 2012, Ms. Global America US 2012, and Ms. Global US 2012. The local media came up with that name so I just went with it!
What do these titles mean to you?
These titles are an honor and I am very grateful. To win one national crown is amazing in itself, but to win three back to back is truly a blessing. I will use these titles to raise money and awareness for Habitat for Humanity.
What and who inspires you?
Who are your role models? My role models are as follows:
1. My grandmothers (both maternal and paternal)- They worked outside the home back in the 1950s when most women stayed home. They were activist in the 1960s and 1970s and were very involved in politics and the Civil Rights Movements. When they got older and most older people sell their homes and move in with their children or to an assisted living situation, they refused to leave their homes and remain living on their own.
2. My mother- because she doesn't give up without a fight.
3. Tina Turner- She's just bad ass. I love her confidence. She is my motivation when I workout because I want to look like her. She proves that women can have a defined muscle tone and still be beautiful and feminine. Another source of inspiration is my GED student. She came to the US on an asylum visa from Africa 30 years ago. She's never been to school, she reads on a 5th grade level, she is a single mother who's income is well below the poverty line, yet she is determined to finish her education. If she refuses to give up, then why should I?
You look amazing and I've read that you like sports. I guess that's how you stay in shape? But do you have to watch your food as well or are you also a natural healthy eater? How do you stay in shape altogether?
I do kickboxing/boxing class in the mornings (which is also a great method of self-defense) and yoga at night 4 days a week. I have been a vegetarian for the last 12 years. I stay away from processed and fast foods. I eat organic and try to buy local produce. I love Farmer's Markets. I am holistic, I do not take aspirin or any medicines unless it is a life or death situation. I love sports especially basketball and football. I like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and mixed martial arts.
What is your goal as Miss Global USA as a Triple Crown winner?
My goal is to use these titles to raise money and awareness for my charities, Habitat for Humanity, The Capital Area Foodbank, and also encourage young people who come from neighborhoods infested with drugs, crime, and poverty like I did that you can achieve your dreams and change the world.
Last word? This website is a valuable resource for people wanting to go back to basics. It's also a good place for support and advocacy for people wanting to live a natural lifestyle which is about more than your hair. Keep doing what you're doing! As Mahatma Ghandi once said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."