There is no age requirement on excellence. Sydni Dion Bennett recently crowned Miss Illinois Teen USA in the pageants 34 year history. Bennett, who attends a performing arts school in Chicago has accomplished many feats and at 16 her future beams.
The Chicago Tribune reports that before the pageant began Bennett was unaware that a black girl had never received this title. Bennett and the few other black girls competing learned this information the weekend of competition.
“I found out the night before the final show, actually. It made me want to fight harder and to win for all the black girls around, not just for myself,” says Bennett. She continues “I didn’t feel less about my ability to win because no black girl had done it; it put a drive in me rather than a doubt.”
Pageantry has made strides towards diversity yet a majority of winners and competitors are white. The small amount of black girls who compete often find friendship and sisterhood behind the scenes of the extravagant pageants.
“There were very few black girls competing,” said Bennett. “We were all close friends and talked about how it had to be the year for one of us to take it. No matter who, we wanted one of us to win.”
The Miss Illinois Teen USA pageant was Bennett’s second time competing. She placed second runner up in her first competition, the 2016 Miss Illinois Teen USA pageant. Her growth in pageantry has been remarkable.
“We are so proud to have her as a winner this year,” says Daryl Schabinger, press relations manager for the Miss Teen Illinois USA.
Next up, Bennett will compete for the national title, Miss Teen USA. Although the national pageant comes with a higher level of seriousness, Bennett believes she can bring home the crown.
“ We have a book list. I have to take the citizenship test, watch the news to stay up on everything. It’s not just walk in and compete. It’s serious now. It’s a lot, but I can handle it.” says Bennett.