| July 23 2019,

11:08 am

How does one make it through "the worst thing" that could ever happen? Looking toward actress, singer, beauty queen and fashion designer Vanessa Williams, I'd say, "Keep moving forward." Thirty-five years ago, Williams was set up for what TIME and many others consider, one of the greatest comeback stories of all time. However, I find her career more of a "push through" than a comeback.

Her Hollywood story began when she made history as the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, in 1983. However, only less than a year after receiving the crown, the 1984 Miss America made history again as the pageant's only queen to resign after images from a nude photoshoot were published against her will.


"This is the worst thing to ever happen to me," then-21-years-old Williams said during a 1984 press conference.

When the photos surfaced, the Miss America franchise reportedly gave Williams 72 hours to relinquish her crown. While passing the title to her runner up, Williams faced severe public scrutiny, lost major endorsement deals, had her parents harassed and even had to withdraw from Syracuse University, where she was studying to become a performing artist.

In short, Williams was essentially crucified for something beyond her control— but sis didn't end her story there. Rather, Williams went on to regain everything she lost and more, as mentioned in a 2016 interview with ABC News anchor Robin Roberts.

YouTube | ABC News

Thirty-two years later, the same organization that once shamed Williams invited her back to the pageant franchise as a head judge and offered her a public apology. Accepting the invitation and apology is a testament to her character and low petty levels. As for endorsements, Williams became the face and voice of major brands ranging from L'Oréal to M&M'S; yup, she voices our favorite M&M character Miss Brown. Also, let's not forget her academic accolades; her education came full circle when Syracuse University awarded her a BFA in visual and performing arts.

"Williams earned the remaining credits for her degree through industry experience and her substantial performances on stage and screen," Syracuse University News wrote of her well-deserved honor back in 2008.

The multi-NAACP Image Award winner, bestselling author and acclaimed actress has excelled on the music charts, the big and small screen and the Broadway stage, garnering GrammyEmmy and Tony nominations. Included in her iconic roles are cultural classics like Soul Food and Hoodlum.

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Williams was not only able to survive "the worst thing" that happened to her at the start of her entertainment career, but she has also thrived and overcame the scandal. Her accomplishments showcase what can happen when someone stands tall and faces their haters head on. Nobody remembers Williams as the pageant queen who resigned. Instead, she is the talented gracious, history-making Miss America, who did not abandon her dreams because of a few closed doors.

May we all have the grace and tenacity to burrow through our personal barriers and seize our individual goals. Salute to her.


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