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Vanessa Williams Reflects on Being First Black Miss America, Plus: How She’s Taking Action Against Racism

Vanessa Williams Reflects on Being First Black Miss America, Plus: How She’s Taking Action Against Racism

“Extra’s” own Miss USA Cheslie Kryst chatted with iconic pageant winner Vanessa Williams, who was the first woman of African-American descent be crowned Miss America in 1984.

Of the racism that came with becoming the first African-American Miss America, Vanessa recalled, “As a 20-year-old winning overnight and having my world changed, I was on my path to appearances, so I didn't know what I was doing… My parents were not only the ones receiving the death threats and having a dialogue with the FBI, but trying to allow me to have some kind of safe haven so I wouldn't be terrified."

Vanessa, 57, pointed out, “I knew that I had to do everything more than the average Miss America just to be considered smart and worthy.”

Williams is taking action in regards to the unrest following the killing of George Floyd. She said, “I've actually luckily turned my shock and disgust and nausea into action. A bunch of us in the Broadway community, about a week after the George Floyd incident happened, were paralyzed… We wanted to do something. We got together and wanted to do something constructive. We started a group called Black Theater United… to highlight what we want changed in the world.”

“One of our first initiatives we're highlighting is Fair Count, which is part of being involved in the Census, making sure you are counted and that will help legislation and things get changed,” Williams continued.

The mother of four opened up about what it is like having a black son in the current climate. She commented, “As a mother of a black son, you have that conversation very early. When you're walking down the street with a group of your friends, guess who they're gonna pick? If they're all white kids and you're the one black kid, they're gonna identify you. They're gonna remember your face.”

Williams is continuing to turn negative into positive, talking about the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on “Stars in the House” this week. She emphasized, “If you can make a change, that's the most significant thing because anger… it's necessary. You have to move through it, but moving through with action makes you feel much, much better.”

Vanessa is also promoting a new children’s book, “Bubble Kisses,” which will feature “black mermaids.” She dished, “What I love about it is there's a song that 'Bubble Kisses' is based on... This is the answer for everyone who's tired of singing ‘Baby Shark.’ Now you get to sing, 'Bubble, bubble, bubble kisses!'”