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Miss Juneteenth USA Visits the Birthplace of Juneteenth

by Ruth Ann Ruiz
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By Ruth Ann Ruiz

The Post Newspaper Features Editor 

Miss Juneteenth USA, Sunshine Huggins, had never visited Texas until this past weekend. She took in all the sights, sounds, aromas and ambience with a passion and acuteness that reflected her youth and her upbeat personality. 

“I’m in Texas. Texas is big!” Sunshine exclaimed as she explained how excited she was to be in Texas. She is from Virginia and won the inaugural title of Miss Juneteenth Virginia in 2023. 

Sunshine was crowned Miss Juneteenth USA on October 14, 2023, at the national pageant held in Philadelphia. 

Since winning her title, she’s been shaking a lot of hands and meeting a lot of people, and she’s been enjoying her new experiences. 

“I’ve met a lot of mayors and governors this past year,” Sunshine said, smiling as she spoke. 

Though she has a sparkling personality, she has a quiet reflective side to her that is evidenced in the musical instrument she has played since she was six years old. She is a harpist. 

“I used to play a lap harp, and then my mom got a harp this big for me,” Sunshine said as she gestured to her knees, indicating the height of her first harp. 

More recently, her mom was able to give her a larger harp. Sunshine stands up gesturing to her eye level the height of her current harp. 

When she is home, she plays her harp in local coffee shops.

One of Sunshine’s future goals is to be a music therapist, but as Sunshine said, “I want it all, I want to travel and be a model.”

 She will graduate from high school in June, and shortly after, she will travel to Angola to represent Miss Juneteenth USA. 

Miss Juneteenth Tennessee, Mendy Pettigrew, who won the title of second runner-up in last October’s Miss Juneteenth USA pageant also came to Texas for her first time. She is currently in high school and works as a lifeguard in her hometown. She too has enjoyed her year as a reigning queen. 

“It’s been very loving and surreal,” Mendy said. 

She explained that she had entered several pageants while growing up but then took a break. 

“I stopped pageants because I didn’t think I fit the pageant image, so I just stopped. 

Running for Miss Juneteenth Tennessee was her step back into pageants, and she experienced firsthand that her image is suited for pageants. 

After spending two days on a whirlwind tour of historic Galveston and significant locations in Houston, the young pageant winners convened at the Nia Cultural Center for a reception honoring the visiting queens. 

Miss Juneteenth Texas, Madison Swain was also a part of the weekend tour and reception. She seems to have become even more comfortable with public speaking and projects a more confident relaxed version of herself since last fall. She played the role of host at the reception. 

The queens mingled with the guests and posed for many photos. One of the guests was Galveston Councilwoman, Sharon B. Lewis, who encouraged the young ladies to always continue to strive. 

It was a memorable weekend for the young ladies and was made possible by the generosity of Sam Collins the III and his wife, Doris Collins, as well as through the support of the Galveston Park Board and the Nia Cultural Center.

” Frederick Douglass said it is much easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Collins said. “For the past three years, my wife and I have sponsored a trip to Galveston for the National Miss Juneteenth USA Queen. Investing in the lives of these young people is important because they are the future keepers of the Juneteenth flame.” 

Sam Collins had this to say about the importance of the visit from the Juneteenth USA pageant winners: 

“When they leave, they become advocates for visiting Galveston, Texas, the birthplace of Juneteenth.”

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