Teen breaks barrier in county pageant

Published April 16, 2007

BLANTON - Most folks who slide their groceries through Shakayla Rainey's checkout lane at the local supermarket have no idea the perky cashier is royalty.

The 18-year-old is kind of low-key. She tries not to make a big deal about her new title as the reigning Miss Pasco County.

"She is still Shakayla," says Mary Baxley Goodwin, 54, a longtime family friend and neighbor. "And not one thing has changed in that girl's behavior since she's won."

When Shakayla beat out a dozen other girls at the Miss Pasco County pageant in February, she became the first African-American to don the crown in the pageant's 59-year history.

And Shakayla says she's honored to be first.

"Hopefully, I've opened the door for other African-American and Hispanic girls to come in and win these (pageants)," said Shakayla, who lives with her family in Blanton.

At Pasco High School where Shakayla is a senior, she's been thrust into the spotlight. But it's not like she wears her sparkling tiara to class or anything.

The principal announced Shakayla's big win on the school's morning news program.

At that moment, Shakayla was sitting in homeroom when she heard it. She let out a nervous laugh. Then, buried her head on her desk.

Now, more students know Shakayla's name. Some smile when they spot her in the halls. Shakayla's girlfriends rib her. And last month, she was asked to emcee the Miss Pasco High School pageant.

But, then there are some who, Shakayla says, have spread wicked rumors that she isn't pretty enough to have won the Miss Pasco County pageant.

"I was ... a little heartbroken by it," she says. "I thought they would be proud. But it was a little disappointing."

But Shakayla just shrugs it off.

With about seven years of pageant experience under her belt, Shakayla has seen her share of naysayers.

"All I would hear is 'I don't know why you keep entering these pageants. They're not going to let a black girl win,' " Shakayla says recalling the remarks from friends.

But, Shakayla says she thrives on a challenge.

"That actually pushed me to keep on trying," she said.

Shakayla has won a couple of pageants here and there. She was crowned Miss Florida Teen four years ago. And Teen Miss Dade City last year. Then, she turned 18, which finally allowed her to compete in the Miss Pasco County pageant.

Pageant director Michelle Topping, 35, says she's thrilled about Shakayla's win.

"I think it's great to have a young woman who lives in our county, goes to school in our county and has grown up in our county (become Miss Pasco)," she said.

The Miss Pasco County pageant drew a large crowd, packing the auditorium at the county fairgrounds.

Shakayla admits it's easy to become intimidated when you're surrounded by beautiful blonds wearing $2,000 evening gowns.

Some contestants had makeup artists and wardrobe stylists in tow.

But over the years, Shakayla had learned to fix her own hair and apply cocoa-colored foundation and lipstick to her face.

Her evening gown was a hand-me-down.

"It actually took me a while to accept myself," Shakayla said. "I thought I had to be like everybody else to be beautiful. But I am beautiful."

And unlike some other pageant contestants, Shakayla doesn't come from a wealthy or well-known family. She's the oldest of five kids. Shakayla's single mom works as a nursing assistant at a local nursing home. Shakayla works part-time at Winn Dixie to pay her pageant entry fees and swelling cell phone bills.

Shakayla says, "we're not poor, but we do struggle sometimes."

She plans to use the $800 scholarship she won from the Miss Pasco pageant to attend Florida State University in the fall, where she plans to study business.

Shakayla hopes to own a business empire when she gets older. Like Donald Trump, she says. She doesn't see any reason to limit her ambition.

"Don't let your circumstances define who you are," Shakayla said.

"You define who you are."