Former USTA Arkansas staffer crowned Miss Arkansas
Ebony Mitchell, former marketing and communications director with USTA Arkansas, was crowned Miss Arkansas 2022 in June. She will go on to compete for the Miss America title in December in Connecticut. She will serve as Miss Arkansas through June 2023.
USTA Southern’s Andrew Feldman caught up with her to talk about pageants, online digital safety and, of course, tennis.
Congratulations on your achievement of being crowned Miss Arkansas. How has being part of the pageant competition world impacted you?
It’s impacted me in so many ways. It started when I was ten years old in third grade. Miss Arkansas at the time came to my school, and she was only the second Black Miss Arkansas ever. I grew up in a small community in Arkansas where I was the only Black child at my school. It had a major impact on me to see this person who looked like me as Miss Arkansas.
I’ve earned over $70,000 in scholarship funds being part of the Miss Arkansas competition and completely paid for my undergraduate degree [from the University of Central Arkansas] and my master’s in health care administration [from John Brown University]. I have no outstanding student loans. Being part of the Miss Arkansas competition has changed my life.
Some folks have an idea of pageants from “Miss Congeniality” and similar movies. What would you tell people is the real story behind competing?
I love that movie. Many people think of these competitions as cutthroat, but it’s so much more. The camaraderie between the contestants is real, we’re genuinely cheering for one another. We all understand that one person is going to walk away with the title, but it’s truly a close-knit group.
You previously worked for USTA Arkansas coordinating marketing and communications. What was your tennis experience like before and during your time with USTA Arkansas?
I wasn’t a tennis person. I didn’t grow up playing the sport. So, I loved my time with USTA Arkansas and learning about tennis. I grew up with dance, tumbling and gymnastics, and what I love about tennis is that everybody can be part of it. It’s open to everyone. I was part of Tennis Apprentice to learn how to play and, in fact, my middle name is Serena. So, I kind of had a head start.
Your campaign as Miss Arkansas is to promote online digital safety for youth. Can you connect this with USTA’s efforts to engage youth in healthy tennis participation?
Absolutely. Mental and physical health is impacted by what kids see online. While I’m trying to get youth to be safe online, USTA is trying to create a healthy generation of youth with physical activity and sportsmanship. USTA’s SafePlay program also tries to ensure kids are safe, just like I’m doing with my campaign.
You have a robust digital presence yourself with Instagram. How do you envision the tennis world using Instagram and social media to better connect with current and potential players?
Social media is used by everyone, people are on it all the time and it’s the best way to advertise. I use it frequently because I can reach new potential candidates for the competition world for them to consider participating. Tennis can use social media to show its benefits to players.
While you are not the first Black woman to serve as Miss Arkansas, what does it mean to be representing Arkansas in the Miss America Competition in 2022?
This year is the first ever that both Miss Arkansas and Miss Teen Arkansas are Black women. For me, that’s a big deal because I was that little girl who saw someone like me as Miss Arkansas. I understand what that representation means for children. I’m excited to inspire beyond my ethnicity while I understand my role as an African-American woman. I’m really just excited to be on stage as Ebony, myself, and representing the best state in the Miss America Competition.
Since you were crowned in June 2022, what has been the best part of serving as Miss Arkansas?
So many people and moments stick out. But there was one incident about a week after I was crowned. I was visiting with a sponsor, and as I walked out the door onto the sidewalk, a little Black girl was waiting for me with her mom. They had seen me go in and were waiting to greet me. She asked, “Are you a princess?” when I walked outside, and it was just so amazing to see how excited she was to meet me.