( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Karen Arrington Discusses Miss Black USA, Writing, and the NAACP Image Award for Literary Excellence
ENSPIRE Contributor: Amitha Bhat
Karen Arrington is an award-winning author, women’s empowerment expert, global philanthropist, and winner of an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Karen’s coaching, mentoring, and philanthropic work spans over 100,000 hours of service — including her position as a Goodwill Ambassador to Sierra Leone, her work as the co-founder of the first Diabetes Awareness Day in West Africa, and her role as the founder of The Miss Black USA Pageant.
Over the past 20 years, Karen has helped over 1,000 women step into powerful careers in media, business, medicine, and law. Today, Karen offers private coaching, global service retreats around the world and coaching for women-owned businesses on how to host international retreats. Karen is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc and resides in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. In an interview with ENSPIRE, Karen Arrington discusses Miss Black USA, her writing, and her NAACP Image Award for Literary Excellence.
What inspired you to found Miss Black USA?
Growing up I often read about African American heroes like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Zora Neale Hurston, and others. They inspired me to use whatever talents I had to give back. My personal experience participating in a teen pageant sponsored by my local NAACP was so empowering. I grew my confidence, developed leadership skills, and connected with ambitious teens who are my best friends today. When I opened up magazines or turned on the television, I didn’t see strong, intelligent, and beautiful Black women that I was constantly surrounded by. I decided to use the platform to elevate, celebrate, and showcase the talent, beauty, and intellect of Black women who continue to be invisible in mainstream media.
How has Miss Black USA made an impact on black women?
Miss Black USA has become a national movement and served over 10,000 young ambitious Black women. They are who’s who of young women of color. The pageant has been life-changing for the majority of participants. Many of the queens have received life-changing scholarships and career opportunities that would not have been available to them otherwise and gone on to pursue successful careers in law, medicine, entertainment, education, and so on. We hosted the pageant in The Gambia, West Africa, the only US-based pageant to hold a pageant in the Motherland. We now have a library named in our honor at a local primary school there. One contestant said that the trip redefined who she was as a Black woman, which pretty much summed up the trip. To date, we have awarded over $500,000 in scholarships to our participants with our most recent cash scholarship of $5,000 going to our Miss Black USA 2018 titleholder, Kelli Abernathy. Kelli was able to use the full $5,000 scholarship she was awarded to pay for her final semester at Auburn University at Montgomery. We are currently recruiting for 2021. We encourage women to apply at www.missblackusa.org.
What does writing mean to you?
I believe God gets pissed off when we have a story inside us and we don’t write it. So, I did. Writing is liberating. It has the power to change lives, false narratives, and even history. There is power in the men and it’s so important to see more African Americans on the bookshelves.
How have you made an impact with your writing?
My book YOUR NEXT LEVEL LIFE: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America is a tiny book with 7 simple rules of success that I have used in coaching and mentoring some of the nation’s most talented young women into successful careers. I wrote the book so that I could reach a larger audience. Every day, I wake up to personal messages from readers who share their stories and how the book has ignited something within them to go to the next level. The resources have also been extremely helpful. For example, I share how you can go to medical school for 4 years, FREE. I did not expect this tiny pink book to have such a BIG impact, but when you’re walking with purpose and doing the work you are called to do, the Universe will make room for you. I now have readers reaching out to me to be their mentor. I’m currently working on a group mentoring program to be launched the first week of September. Get on my mailing list at www.karenarrington.com to be the first to get the invite.
How did you feel when you won the NAACP Image Award for Literary Excellence?
This was my first book. I was in a category with celebrities who had millions of followers compared to my 1500 on Instagram. It was an extreme honor to even be nominated out of thousands of books. But to win an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Works was an over-the-top blessing. It was surreal to hear my name called and then accept the trophy. I had no speech prepared, but I was overjoyed. The book flew off the shelves and sold-out twice. You can grab a copy at Amazon and all major book retailers.
Who/what are your greatest literary influences?
I grew up reading James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, and of course, Toni Morrison. They inspired me as a writer.
In the future, Karen will be working on her next book, hosting international retreats, and doing work in Africa, as she is a Goodwill Ambassador to Sierra Leone. Her heart is in empowering the African girl child and improving the fragile healthcare system. She also looks forward to launching her mentorship program and guiding more Black women to live their best life, only better. To learn more about Karen, follow her on Instagram @karen_arrington or visit her website: www.karenarrington.com