Twelve youngsters danced, sang and strutted as they competed to be crowned Mr. and Miss Essence Of Lexington at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington on Friday night.
The contestants all introduced themselves and told the crowd the number of their siblings and their parents' names. They said they have dreams of becoming doctors, professional athletes, fashion designers and entertainers. The pageant kicked off with a rendition of Whitney Houston's Greatest Love of All and a short dance by the contestants.
Anita Franklin said the pageant was to build confidence and expose inner-city kids to something that most might not have experienced.
"I thought it was important for our young kids to be engaged with community," she said. "We're teaching them life skills, but we're also teaching them to be brave and that they can be whatever they want to be. The purpose is to try and build self-confidence in some of the kids that may not be reached in this area."
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The pageant was part of the Antonio Franklin Jr. Violence Intervention Project, also known as "VIP."
Antonio Franklin was shot near the swing set of Duncan Park as two rival teenage groups exchanged gunfire in April 2014. Since his death, Anita On Friday night, the contestants were surrounded by relatives, police officers and community leaders as they stepped on stage. Decorated blue cloth stretched across the windows and the back wall.
Franklin has led marches in the park and throughout the East End community.
She said she hopes the pageant will become a tradition.
"What I've seen is progression," Anita Franklin said. "It started off very quiet, and now they're very open, engaging, so it's a very positive decision. ... It's just the beginning."
Jaila Yeast was named Miss Essence, and Quaneya Brantley was named Lil Miss Essence. James Burbage was named Mr. Essence.