Alumna aims to inspire girls of color

Selena Watkins

New Miss Black USA is J/MS graduate and former KISS-FM radio producer

By Amber Cruse—

She’s a professional dancer, fitness instructor and former associate producer for KISS FM radio in New York. Now, as Miss Black USA for 2012, Selena Watkins, J/MS 2010, is traveling all over the country as a goodwill ambassador for the pageant.

Watkins calls the pageant more than just a beauty competition. In a recent interview, the new Miss Black USA said it is more like a “movement,” inspiring young girls and celebrating women of color.

The pageant partners with the Heart Truth Campaign to promote awareness of heart disease among women, which kills one in four. As she makes personal appearances all over the country, Watkins promotes exercise as a way to reduce risk of heart disease.

“It’s about making the experience worthwhile while you have that title,” Watkins said.

She hopes that her title as Miss Black USA will be a springboard to becoming a fitness celebrity trainer, much like the popular Jeanette Jenkins.

The 24-year-old Watkins, who resides in Yonkers, N.Y., won her title in Washington, D.C. in August. Contestants spent five days answering questions, performing in the talent competition, and modeling evening wear and fitness attire. As Miss Black New York, she bested more than 30 contestants from throughout the United States and the Virgin Islands.

Her reign so far has been an amazing one. She was featured on a segment of “New York Nightly News,” anchored by Chuck Scarborough, and was featured on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” a live, nationally syndicated radio program. Watkins was also honored by Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano at a special reception.

“It’s finally all paying off,” Watkins said. “You’ve got to work hard to receive the reward.” —Selena Watkins

She made appearances at New York’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and rode a float at the West Indian Labor Day Parade in Queens. In addition, she was named a Beautiful Ambassador of Hope at the “Christmas In October” black-tie benefit in New York sponsored by Raising Hope Africa, a charity that raises funds to aid African orphans.

Her beauty pageant preparation started at Rutgers, when Watkins earned the title of Miss Rutgers Caribbean in 2005, representing her parents’ home country of Antigua.

Watkins said she came to Rutgers to major in both journalism and dance at Mason Gross.

“I started out at WRSU so that sort of sparked my interest in radio,” she recalled.

Watkins had prestigious internships at the BRAVO network and Hot 97 with Angie Martinez in one summer, all while taking a media-and-ethics course.

“I don’t know how I balanced it all, but I made it through by keeping a strict schedule,” Watkins said. “But when you put your mind to something, you don’t realize how hard it is until it’s over, and you’re like, ‘wow did I just do that?’”

According to Watkins, the most important thing she learned from her J/MS training is her ability to be well-spoken.

After graduation she landed a position as associate producer at New York radio station KISS FM for three years, which has since folded and sold its licenses to ESPN.

At the same time she started leading fitness classes in Westchester County and developed her own style of dance fitness. She calls it “Socanomics,” an all-level Afro-Caribbean cardio dance class rooted in the spirit of Caribbean carnival.

“It’s like Zumba, except it’s strictly reggae music,” Watkins explained. “It’s so much fun.”

She will be honored by charitable groups and will appear in public events all year until she hands her title over this summer. After that, it’s entrepreneur time. Her new company is called Selena Watkins, Heath and Fitness, LLC.

Watkins shared her plans for the future.

“I won’t have a facility, “ she said, “but I will be consulting, I’ll be doing health coaching, group workshops and personal training, where if people want me in different cities or states, they can have me.”