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 chaperones.

"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 year.

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 an educator.

"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 field.

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 it."

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."


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 in Mississippi.

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.