BILLINGS — Montana has two new pageant queens with a message that Black is not only beautiful but strong.

For the first time in history, Billings has its very own Miss Juneteenth and Little Miss Juneteenth.

“We are strong, beautiful and powerful,” says Sakaiyrah Figg, Miss Juneteenth Billings.

Sakaiyrah, 13, is certainly proud to serve as a role model for her heritage, and so is 9-year-old Zahara Lawicki, Little Miss Juneteenth.

“I think a couple answers that kind of struck me were the 9-year-old. We asked, ‘Why are you proud to be black?’ And she said, ‘We’re powerful.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay, girl. That’s exactly what we needed to hear,’” says Baylee Van Dyke, Black Heritage Foundation of Billings Volunteer Pageant Judge.

The inaugural Billings Miss Juneteenth Youth Pageant is modeled after a national Juneteenth pageant system, and the judges’ questions were packed with cultural significance: Why are you proud to be black? What does Juneteenth mean to you? And What would you like to see next year at the Juneteenth Festival?

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Sakaiyrah Figg, Miss Juneteenth Billings

“I answered that this was the day we were able to have freedom and be able to have things as equal, be equal to everybody,” says Figg.

“Freedom, basically, that’s the main thing,” says Van Dyke. “That was the day that everyone in Texas, they were officially…an army came down and officially everyone was let known that they were free, and it was a celebration and dancing, food, everything.”

That day was June 19th, 1865, commemorating the end of slavery after the Civil War in the United States.

The Black community has celebrated the day since the late 1800’s, and in Billings, the Black Heritage Foundation has been hosting Juneteenth Freedom Day Festival since 2002.

This year is that much more significant with the newest ambassadors embracing diversity and culture, hoping to pass on the history and pride to anyone watching.