There’s a new queen in South Florida. Coral Springs resident Janelle Floyd was crowned Ms. South Florida Juneteenth earlier this year.
Juneteenth recognizes the liberation of slaves from bondage in the southern states. Teaching others about the history of what that means to the Black community is now part of Floyd’s role as a winner of the pageant.
The federal holiday was signed into law by President Joe Biden on June 17, 2021. The day commemorates the ending of slavery on June 19, 1865. The original executive order was made by union troops in Galveston, Texas to emancipate over 250,000 Black slaves in the state. Now there are annual Juneteenth community-wide events around the country.
Taking place in Miami, the Miss South Florida Juneteenth Pageant was started in 2021 by Constance Robinson to help create young women missionaries for the message of what Juneteenth means for Black Americans. The idea was to find a way to help young people understand what the holiday is all about and how to spread the word. It’s also another way of holding a local pageant that highlights internal beauty of character as much — or more — than their external beauty.
Floyd works as the director of racial justice and gender equity at YWCA of Palm Beach County. Her mission was the creation of Girls in Christ, a leadership-driven 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to empower 7- to 21-year-old minority girls, or “Sunflowers,” as Floyd likes to call them.
Floyd never participated in a pageant before. She was too busy with her life pursuits trying to make a difference for others. Her upbringing reinforced her desire to always be focused on making a difference.
“I was raised by my mom and dad, who embraced community when I was young,” she said. “I was able to actually witness what it’s like to have a support system and to receive from my own community. At a young age, I began volunteering. Even in high school, I found myself being a guest speaker at some events to generate leadership skills.”
Floyd’s accomplishments and activities at a young age foreshadowed her future creation of Girls in Christ, and even in some ways foreshadowed her becoming a representative for Juneteenth.
She attended Howard University in Washington, DC from 2013 to 2017. By 2016, the last year of the Obama Administration, Floyd interned at the White House and participated in policy work. After that, she interned for the late South Florida political icon Alcee Hastings on Capitol Hill. Activism, political engagement and community activism had taken hold of Floyd’s character by this point.
When the Juneteenth pageant came around, she was already accomplished with numerous life achievements. To Floyd, though, the pageant isn’t about simply highlighting an individual, she sees the broader perspective of the event.
“The Juneteenth Pageant is a figurative and literal stage for young Black girls, because it allows them to shine so brightly with their inner and outer beauty,” she said. “I feel what led me to the Juneteenth Pageant happened because I have been so involved in the community. I believe my community involvement led me to be confident, even on stage. Now, I get to represent what the Juneteenth holiday represents to the community.”
The passionate backdrop to Floyd’s victory in the pageant is the nonprofit she runs.
“The mission of Girls in Christ is to help young ladies grow in confidence, Christ and community,” she said. “The idea of confidence comes first, because I believe girls and women have to have self-love and self-confidence in order to believe that there’s a higher being who is constantly wanting to hurt them. Because if we have blockage in our hearts, then it’s hard for us to believe that people who do love us deserve love.
“The second pillar is based on the fact that I want us to keep in mind that Christ is the nucleus of all that we do,” she said. “Then the third pillar is community, because once you have self-love and once you can receive the love from the higher being, your cup is full. Now you can pour that love into others, and that is where the community comes into place.”
When Floyd heard about the Miss Juneteenth pageant, she said she didn’t think she had enough time to get engaged with the event.
“I was told about the Juneteenth pageant, and at first I thought I didn’t have enough time to commit to another endeavor,” she said. “But once I really took the time to reflect, I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to be a role model who could inspire young girls in another capacity.”
Floyd said that she was impressed by the good will of the other contestants in the pageant. She noticed that the competitiveness that might be there in other pageants simply wasn’t there in the Juneteenth event.
“The other contestants were very sisterly,” she said. “If someone backstage needed a hairpin or something, they were generous enough to help each other out. The way the women interacted just goes to show that they were unafraid to give to someone else what they need in order to succeed, without the thought that it might take away from their own chances.”
After Floyd won the Miss Juneteenth title, she followed through with her pledge to be available for educating others about what the new holiday is all about.
“I wore my pageant attire, which is my crown and heels,” she said. “Now, when I go to events to represent Juneteenth, I try to articulate the history of Juneteenth, as well as to inspire organizations or individuals to do what they can to support and celebrate the holiday.”
“When I talk to people about it now, the general reaction I get is that they are excited to see that Juneteenth is getting the recognition it deserves,” she said. “But still a lot of people are still telling me that they didn’t know about it, or didn’t hear about it. That just goes to show that next year, it will be a much bigger event.”
Constance Robinson is the creator of the Miss South Florida Juneteenth pageant. She comes from a background in both personal achievement as well as beauty pageants when she was younger.
Robinson won her first beauty pageant, the Miss Black Miami contest, in 1992. That same year, she went on to compete in the Miss Black America Pageant. Her realization of the value of pageants came to her after having the experience. She’s currently retired, but staying busy with the pageant and other Juneteenth-related activities.
“At the time, I was 28 years old,” she said. “I learned how a pageant can build your self-esteem and your confidence level. Before I was in a pageant, I was actually just a helper at the event. But the organizer of the Miss Miami pageant at the time said he needed 10 contestants, and that he wanted me to be number 10. It happened to work out well for me.”
Then, after winning that title and participating in the national pageant, Robinson came back to Miami and created a pageant called Miss Ebony Star, which she ran for years.
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By 2020, the country went through a series of awakenings about racism. The combination of national crises about race led to the passage of the national Juneteenth holiday in 2021 by executive order.
“I decided to join the Juneteenth Festival in Miami,” Robinson said. “I told the organizers that I do pageants. I suggested we should consider having a Miss Juneteenth pageant to help raise awareness, because a lot of people still don’t know about this holiday. I felt that, with a pageant, we could get young women and teach them about Juneteenth and they can go out and spread the word about it.”
Robinson said that she started soliciting for contestants. Now she has three divisions: Teen for ages 14 to 18, Miss for ages 19 to 25 and Ms. for ages 26 to 35. The national Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant is only for teens between 14 and 19 who will go on to the national Juneteenth event. Floyd is part of the Ms. division because of her age.
“Most of the contestants are already doing the work of community service and speaking engagements,” Robinson said. “They have businesses, YouTube channels, and so forth. So all they’re missing is their crown, because they’re doing the work.”
She said she could see that the writing was practically on the wall when it came to Floyd as a great candidate for the contest.
“Janelle Floyd is the perfect queen,” Robinson said. “When I saw the resume that she sent in with her application, I thought to myself that all she’s missing is a crown. This girl is doing it every day and she’s so on the ball.”
To apply to compete in the Miss South Florida Juneteenth pageant, visit sfljuneteenth.com/applicant.html.