Milwaukian hopes to bring home second national teen pageant title
Two years ago, 13-year-old Shayla Montgomery stepped outside her comfort zone in a big way by competing in the National American Miss Pre-Teen pageant in Anaheim, California.
The Milwaukie resident won the national title.
Now, at the age of 15, she will take to the stage again as National American Miss Oregon Junior Teen and hopes to bring home another national title on Nov. 26.
The competition is held the week of Thanksgiving, and the contestants vie in interview and evening gown categories, as well as giving a one-minute personal introduction speech during the preliminary round.
If they are named to the top five, contestants compete in another evening gown and personal introduction on stage. The national winner is chosen on the basis of academic status, poise on stage, one-on-one interview with a judging panel, communication skills and community service.
Montgomery also could win scholarship money for competing in the pageant: $1,000 for a state title and $5,000 for a national title. She put the money she won in 2015 into a college fund, looking ahead to when she goes to medical school.
The National American Miss pageant is "not a beauty pageant," Montgomery said. Instead, the focus is on speaking skills and promoting a social issue that contestants feel strongly about.
Montgomery is passionate about putting a stop to bullying, especially in schools. The issue is a personal one, as she was bullied in middle school.
"A girl told me there was no place on Earth for me. She made me feel bad about myself," Montgomery said. What was particularly painful for her was that the girl supposedly was her friend.
Around that same time, Montgomery started competing in pageants, which she said changed her life.
"The focus of the pageant was to work hard to make ourselves better, to achieve our dreams," she said.
Montgomery looked around and realized she was "surrounded by amazing girls," and her confidence grew.
When she came back to Oregon with her first national title, "I realized I was important and could make a difference," she said.
In 2015, Montgomery joined an Oregon City-based anti-bullying organization called Continue to Find Kindness. She became a board member and spokesperson for the group and traveled to local schools sharing her story about being bullied and encouraging others to stand up for themselves.
This year, she decided to take that campaign a step further and founded #Standup, a social media platform that encourages others to send in photos and share stories about how they overcame bullying, how they stood up for someone being bullied, or how they spread kindness in their community.
The campaign is on Instagram and Facebook because they are "the best way to communicate with teens," Montgomery said.
So far this year, she has spread her message in classrooms at numerous schools in the metro area and has been invited to more when she returns from California.
Montgomery has spoken at several assemblies, but prefers to go into classrooms where she can speak to smaller groups.
Montgomery is a sophomore at Clackamas Middle College, a public charter high school sponsored by the North Clackamas School District. She is in the college-prep program at the school, and when she graduates from high school she also will have earned an associate's degree from Clackamas Community College.
At CMC, Montgomery is part of a leadership group planning activities to help students from different backgrounds and cultures understand one another.
Montgomery is half African-American and a member of a black student seminar group in the North Clackamas School District, promoting the middle college to students of similar backgrounds.
In her day-to-day role at CMC, she is known as the girl who smiles, she said.
"I love spreading positivity. Life is too short to be sad. We should be kind to others."
Montgomery also is a member of the Portland branch of ChickTech, a national nonprofit organization that engages women and girls in the technology industry.
"The focus is on engineering, and we do lots of experiments and projects together," she said.
As for advice she has for any girl thinking about entering a pageant, Montgomery said "reach for the stars. Don't be afraid to take that first step. Your confidence will grow and you will make so many friends."
Learn more about Shayla Montgomery's #Standup program on Instagram @shaylamontgomery and on Facebook at facebook.com/2017nationalamericanmissjrteen.
For more information about the National American Miss Pageant, visit namiss.com.
To find out more about Clackamas Middle College, visit clackamasmiddlecollege.org.
Visit portland.chicktech.org to learn more about ChickTech.