Baker is crowned Miss Black Washington USA

Mercer Island resident discusses the pageant and life.

In Justine Baker’s case, the first time is a charm.

Last August, the Mercer Island resident decided to enter her initial pageant — Miss Black Washington USA — and began preparing for a plethora of interviews that would come with the territory. She also delved into her literacy platform that she would be voicing to the judges during the competition in Seattle.

When January rolled around, Baker, 27, was all set for her debut performance in the pageant realm. After making a solid impact with the judges during those interviews and blasting out some jazz on her trumpet during the talent portion of the event, Baker was crowned Miss Black Washington USA.

“One of the judges told me that she loved my work ethic and that she could tell how ambitious and determined I was,” said Baker, who has resided on the Island for the last two years and works as an on-camera host, digital reporter and producer for FOX 13 Seattle.

Baker moved to the Island from Detroit, Michigan, and enjoys the close-knit community that reminds her of home.

She’ll be stepping out and giving back to the community as Miss Black Washington USA through next January and aims to give 2,000 books to kids in a host of Washington communities, speak at schools and more.

“I want kids to have the opportunity to read and get lost in literature,” she said.

The Michigan State University broadcast journalism graduate began volunteering as a youngster with her family at missions, food banks and symphonies, and continued lending a hand throughout college and into the present day.

“That’s really what made me who I am today,” said Baker, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “(These days) I always volunteer for different homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, some hospice centers, libraries as well.”

Next up on Baker’s pageant docket will be the Miss Black USA event this August in Washington, DC. Broadcast on FOX Soul, the event will feature interviews and talent and fitness segments.

While Baker received her sash and crown at her first pageant, contestants will be in the running for a four-year scholarship to earn their masters degree along with TV show appearances and more with a Miss Black USA triumph.

Baker’s parents are thrilled that their daughter is shining in her life with strength of character, grace, courage, confidence and determination.

“I’m proud of her accomplishments, her kindness, and the impact she makes on those around her,” said her dad, Sonny.

Added her mother, Diane: “Nothing makes a parent more proud than seeing their child achieve their goals. Justine’s done more than reach for the stars, she’s soared among them.”

Here’s a Q and A with Baker that covers myriad aspects of her life, from her pageant experience to Mercer Island living:

Reporter: What drove you toward participating in the pageant?

Baker: Growing up, my parents really instilled giving back to the community, and my sisters and I. And so I volunteer a lot. I think it’s really important to get out and help the community. That aligned with my morals and my values. When I moved to Mercer Island from Detroit, I realized that the Black community is not as big, and it’s completely different here in Washington. I think it’s really important for me to give back and be a role model to other Black individuals, especially in Washington.

Reporter: What were some of the challenges that you faced (in the pageant)? What were some of the high points?

Baker: I definitely would say the high point was being crowned, but also just getting in the community more than I was. Having these opportunities to spread awareness of not only the pageant, but like I said, being a role model and having kids see me for the things that I do and that they can do whatever they put their minds to. I think it’s such a blessing to be a role model to these kids. And then I’d say the challenge would probably be just the amount of hours and hard work it took to get to the spot. And this being my first pageant, I didn’t really know what to expect.

Reporter: Has this been a growing experience for you as you head into what you’re doing now and heading into the next pageant?

Baker: It has been a growing experience. If anything, even if I don’t win the crown, I’m so grateful to be in this position because I learned so much about myself and I’ve just become a better person because of it.

Reporter: Why did you choose (the literacy platform)? What drew you to that?

Baker: My mom was a teacher. She just recently retired. She was a teacher for over 40 years. I always grew up going to the libraries, reading (in) libraries, donating books, and just really being in that space. Then me as a journalist as well, I think it’s so important to read and to have the opportunity.

Reporter: Any other message that you really want to hammer home as you’re going through this?

Baker: I ultimately just want to empower women to take risks, try new things, and just that they can do anything that they put their mind to, regardless of what it is. There is no challenge too big or too small, and they’re able to, as long as you put your head down and you’re dedicated and you work hard, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.

Reporter: (We discuss the previous Miss Black Washington USA, Ashley Wells.) What’s the best piece of advice that she gave you?

Baker: She told me that as much as I put into this is how much I’ll get out. Really just taking this experience as an opportunity to grow, have fun, learn, and give back. That was probably the best piece of advice. I think about that every day. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so make it worth it.

Reporter: Then right back at you, what’s the best advice you’d give someone who is maybe thinking about doing this or maybe just thinking about being more outspoken about issues and such?

Baker: I would say that this is a great opportunity to guide someone else or mentor someone else. You never know how many people are watching you or wanting to be like you or look up to you. So this opportunity gives me the chance to mentor and guide our younger people. I would just say that it’s a great chance to shine and help guide someone else along to success or help them on the right path.

Reporter: So being on Mercer Island now, a close-knit community, we know that. A lot of support from some of your fellow residents here who embrace what you’re doing?

Baker: Yes, of course. I’m pretty close to my neighbors. I attend different events with the high schoolers. I babysit my neighbors’ kids. I’m always involved in the community whenever there’s something going on. And so I talk to them and they’re super excited for what I’m doing. And they always say that I’m a role model to their kids. So this really just puts that on a higher platform that now I can be a role model to all the kids in Washington.

Reporter: What are you hoping to achieve here heading into that next pageant? How would you really like to leave your mark?

Baker: All of these girls that I’m competing (with) are very intelligent, very smart. They’re great competition. They have a lot going for themselves. Honestly, I want to have a great experience. I want to build long-lasting friendships. I want to be involved in different things. I think that this is just going to be a great experience. This pageant, I like to tell people that it’s not a beauty pageant. It’s a pageant where we’re empowering other women and we’re afforded these great opportunities, like scholarships.

Reporter: What’s your goal each day when you wake up and you jump out into the world? What do you hope to achieve?

Baker: I always hope to leave a lasting impression on someone. I always hope to be the best version of myself. If I can help someone make their day better or easier, that’s always my mission. I’ve always been a helpful person, and I realized that people go through so many different things. Being a journalist, you never know someone’s full story unless you ask. It’s always my mission to make their lives easier or better, or help someone smile because you never know what anyone’s going through.