Poised and passionate
By LaReeca Rucker
While working as a music teacher at Madison Palmer High School in Marks,
Kimberly Morgan helped Lakisha Bell, 17, put things in perspective.
"She taught me a lot about boys," Bell said. "She said not to be so focused
on them because I had the rest of my life to do that. She was a music
teacher, but she taught us life values, too."
Morgan encouraged Bell to make good grades, be the best person she could be and live up to her potential. Leading by example, Morgan became Miss
Mississippi, and the world can watch her compete for the Miss America crown Saturday.
Perhaps the dream began when she watched her first Miss America pageant in
second grade. The year was 1990, and Missouri native Debbye Turner became
the second African-American to win the national title.
Like Turner, Morgan shares a similar spot in Mississippi history as the
second African-American to win the state pageant.
Raised in the Taylor community of Oxford by parents Elzie and Valerie, the
self-described "country girl" with the pixie haircut has said she could not
live without music. Her biggest guilty pleasure is eating smooth and tasty
Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, and when she's searching for clarity, she
sometimes baits a hook and throws a line.
Monday, things became clearer after completing the interview portion of the
Miss America competition.
"I feel really good," she said by phone from Las Vegas. "I did my best, and
that's all I can do. I kind of got a little emotional after the interview
because now I can breathe. I am just going to go into the rest of the
competitor full force."
Morgan said her schedule has been nonstop. On Sunday, Miss America
contestants watched the percussion, movement and visual comedy show Stomp,
went on a gondola ride at The Venetian hotel and modeled in a fashion show.
"I've been praying for strength and stamina," she said. "I am continually
striving to show that Mississippi light. I am proud to represent
Mississippi, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have this experience
of a lifetime."
Pat Hopson, producer and franchise holder of the Miss Mississippi pageant,
said the national pageant has changed over the last few years. Not only has
it moved from Atlantic City to Las Vegas and from network television to
cable, but past contestants are no longer required to attend with
"I traveled with contestants from 1976 (Bobbye Wood) to 2001 (Becky
Pruett)," Hopson said. Today, the women are allowed to travel alone.
Morgan's parents accompanied her, but she will not be able to see them until
later this week.
"The week is very, very busy," Hopson said. "Sometimes, I think the
contestants are a little taken back at the red carpet treatment they
receive. They really are thrust into the major limelight."
Batesville native Lakeysha Hallmon was crowned South Panola High School
homecoming queen in 1999. She was aware of Morgan, a girl from a neighboring
town, who was named Lafayette High School homecoming queen the following
The two royals later taught together at Madison Palmer High School where
Hallmon was Morgan's mentor teacher, guiding her through her first year as
"She is just a rose," Hallmon said. "She truly stood out. I knew she would
extend further than the classroom. I knew I had really met someone. She's
genuine, very loving and passionate about everything she does."
Hallmon said students and faculty were overjoyed to learn Morgan had been
crowned Miss Mississippi in July.
"There was a pandemonium of happiness, but no one was really surprised,"
Hallmon said. "Everyone knows she's the epitome of what it means to be a
model for the nation. We knew we had Miss Mississippi in the classroom all
the time; Mississippi just didn't know it."
Cenovia Burns, a counselor at Jackson's G. N. Smith School, graduated from
Alcorn State University before Morgan. The two met and became friends
through college-related functions, bonding over their work in the education
She describes Morgan as a family oriented person who is passionate about
children. While touring the state, Morgan visited Burns' Jackson school.
"She made a strong impact on our students," Burns said. "They saw someone
with strong conviction, confidence and an exuberant amount of beauty. Her
level of confidence exceeds most. No matter what happens, she is still a
winner. So, knowing you're a winner before you compete makes a difference."
Edgar Holman, principal of Madison Palmer High School, was looking for a
winner when he hired Morgan as a music teacher.
"I said if the only thing you can teach them is music, I don't think we are
doing them justice," he said. "I wanted someone who could be a positive role
model. She was very outstanding and upstanding."
Holman said the students watched Morgan prepare for the Miss Mississippi
competition by doing daily exercises.
"She dedicated herself to preparation," he said. "She showed them she was
serious about something she wanted to achieve, and they started to believe
He said the school is confidently supporting Morgan, who returned after
winning the crown to speak to students.
"She told them to let nothing stop them and to prepare themselves," he said.
"We thank God for what she's done. We are a very rural school, and for our
kids to see a young lady like her and say, 'I want to be like her,' or 'She
has qualities I want to possess' - we are very fortunate to have had her to
come into our lives."
DID YOU KNOW?
Miss Mississippi Kimberly Morgan hopes to obtain a master's degree in
educational leadership/ administration and a doctorate in music. She also
hopes to open and run a performing arts school in a rural, low-income area
The Alcorn State University graduate is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.
She was crowned Miss ASU 2004-2005.
Her platform is helping kids learn to read through music education.
Madison Palmer student Zikera Brown, 15, describes Morgan as nice,
encouraging and respectful. "If you had any problems, you could talk to
her," she said. "She is a person you could depend on." Brown said the
student body was elated when Morgan won the state competition, and they will
be cheering her on Saturday night.