Born and raised in Georgia, Sharia Denise Stripling made history as the first Black Deaf woman to beat out 11 other hearing women in the Ms. Division and finish as second runner-up in the Miss Black International Ambassador competition where she represented Ms. Georgia, which was also her first international competition.
As a student at Miller Middle School, Stripling came across Heather Whitestone’s book. Upon reading about Whitestone’s journey in competing and becoming the first Deaf woman to win Miss America in 1995, Stripling was inspired. “I had [a] vision of how I want[ed] to do with my platform and how can I change the world for something better,” Stripling said.
During her freshman year of high school, Stripling decided to go ahead and participate in her very first pageant competition, which was Miss Deaf Georgia hosted by the Georgia Association of the Deaf. Even though Stripling did not place in her first competition, she described it as an amazing experience.
“I got to know who I am and what would I do with my platform… I had so much [fun] meeting people and I learned about Deaf culture,” Stripling reflected.
Altogether, Stripling has competed in 12 pageants—two were all-Deaf and ten were hearing-run.
When asked about her experiences in hearing pageant competitions, Stripling responded that other than her accessibility needs, it has been enjoyable for her:
“I love to compete in hearing pageants because I love to challenge myself at many levels. Competing at the International level to make the top 5 was the most memorable experience I ever had. I just am amazed with myself, and I knew I could do it.”
One key aspect about pageant competitions that a lot of Deaf people may not be aware about is the bond of sisterhood among all the competitors. “It is important to have sisters to support each other, instead of tearing each other down,” Stripling shared.
Although Stripling is hanging up her crown and sash since she wants to get married and start a family of her own, she emphasizes she is not ready to retire from pageants.
“I am highly likely to compete in the Mrs. division. My other goals are to own a salon and a dance studio, build a pageant coaching business, and more!” If you want to support Stripling’s endeavors, you can donate to her via CashApp ($DeafRoseQueen89) or Venmo (@Sharia-Stripling).
Stripling wanted to share this message for all Black Deaf women and girls out there who are interested in pageant competitions: “Chase your dreams and push yourself to the next level. Get out there and compete because there will be opportunities out there, and you get some experiences as well.”