Born to Better Mississippi — Brookhaven native Laura Lee Lewis prepares for the Miss Mississippi pageant

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, July 7, 2013

“Childhood was a little difficult for me because I looked different,” said Brookhaven resident Laura Lee Lewis.

The 20-year-old Mississippi State University student had an overdeveloped jawbone and cheekbone growing up.

In 2009, before her corrective jaw surgery, she won Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen, the teen version of Miss Mississippi.

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“The Miss Mississippi organization – they just lifted me up,” she said.

She said the Miss Mississippi community is like a family and being a part of it gave her confidence when she felt uncomfortable because of her appearance. She said the organization turned her into a woman who believes she can do anything.

“Because I had such a great experience as a teen, I said, why wouldn’t I want to be in Miss Mississippi?” said Lewis.

She won Miss West Central Mississippi, an open pageant in Madison, and has been preparing for the state pageant this weekend.

“This’ll be my first time,” she said, of participating in pageant.

Lewis said she has grown up in the Miss Mississippi pageant. She has been preparing for the competition since age 12.

Her platform is “Mentoring Matters,” a cause personal for Lewis.

“I’m living proof that mentoring matters,” she said.

She said one of her elementary teachers, Pam Fearn, made her feel special. Fearn told her, “Laura Lee, you’re going to be a leader someday.”

Lewis never forgot that. She called the Barbara Bush Foundation to find out how she could bring the Teen Trendsetters mentoring program to Mississippi. She developed a team to help bring the program to Brookhaven, the state’s pilot city for Teen Trendsetters. Kenny Goza with Entergy and Mississippi Scholars, Kay Burton with the Chamber of Commerce and Mississippi Scholars, Pam Fearn with the Retired Teachers Association, Marlene Cupit (financial sponsor) with Hearst Review and Denita Hobbs with Hearst Review, together with Brookhaven High School and Mamie Martin Elementary supported the cause and Teen Trendsetters became implemented at Mamie Martin Elementary School.

“The support we have in Brookhaven is incredible,” said Lewis. “I’m so proud to be a part of that community and I’m so proud to represent that community at Miss Mississippi.”

Teen Trendsetters is a one-on-one weekly reading mentoring program where high school students mentor K-3 grade students. Twenty-two high school seniors volunteered their time to read to the children at Mamie Martin.

Lewis said that while visiting the elementary, a kindergarten student, Ella, ran up to her and thanked her for what she’d done.

“I love Ellen,” she said, of her mentor.

Ellen Doty, Brookhaven High School student, read to Ella. The teacher also thanked Lewis, saying that she’d seen a change in Ella since Doty started mentoring her – that her confidence and reading comprehension had developed.

“If I’m honored with the title of Miss Mississippi, I want to get it everywhere (in Mississippi),” said Lewis.

For the talent portion of the competition, Lewis will be singing, “Somewhere” from West Side Story. She said she sang the song in the Mississippi Teen pageant and had a difficult time finding something better. She said when she felt uncomfortable with the way she looked, she’d say, somewhere, there’s a place for me.

“I found that through Miss Mississippi,” said Lewis. “I found my place and that my place is in Miss Mississippi, serving Mississippians.”

The theme for this year’s state pageant is “Miss Mississippi Through the Decades.”

“It’ll be really exciting,” said Lewis.

To prepare for the pageant, Lewis has been eating right and exercising. She got her whole family involved with getting fit and being healthy.

“We’re all doing it together,” she said.

Her mom, Lorin Lewis, has been coaching her with her talent, and she has been preparing for her interview. The Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce offers weekly mock interviews for young women competing in state pageants. Lewis has been training with Lincoln County’s Miss Hospitality, Ashton Richardson, and Distinguished Young Woman, Anna Gardner.

“We help each other,” she said.

They sit in on each other’s interviews and offer encouragement and critique.

“We have some great representatives from our town that are competing,” said Lewis.

If Lewis is crowned as Miss Mississippi, she’ll have six weeks to prepare for Miss America.

“I’ll come home with an experience no matter what happens,” she said.

The day after the pageant is her sister’s birthday. Lewis said she’s looking forward to eating an extra large piece of birthday cake with ice cream.

If you would like to send cards or flowers to Lewis at Miss Mississippi, address gifts to Laura Lee Lewis, c/o La Quinta Inn and Suites, 4160 S. Frontage Road, Vicksburg, MS 39182.