ORLANDO, Fla. – Ericka Dunlap has been competing in pageants since she was 6 years old. She said it wasn’t always pretty.
In 2003 her commitment paid off when she became the first African-American woman to win the Miss Florida crown.
In the past 17 years, she still remains the only black woman to hold the title. In 2004, she went on to be crowned Miss America.
The Orlando native graduated from Boone High School and the University of Central Florida.
She recently joined News 6 as a guest on “Florida’s Fourth Estate."
On the podcast, she was asked about black women recently winning the titles for Miss USA, Miss America, Miss Universe and Miss World all at the same.
"It was so wonderful to see these girls with all different hues, different hairstyles, being appreciated for the beauty that not only is the outward beauty, because they are gorgeously stunning, but they also have these qualities about them that reflect what it means, in my opinion, to be a queen,” she said.
Not only is diversity something she celebrates, but Dunlap said it is important for young girls to be able to look up to someone who looks like them.
“When I was a little girl, I used to watch Phylicia Rashad. She was like my total idol,” she said.
Dunlap said the actress that played Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” “carried herself in such a way that I always wanted to.”
Dunlap said being Miss Florida opened doors for her, but it also came with challenges.
“You are constantly traveling, every 48 hours you are in a new place,” she said. “You can’t be cranky and tired, you might be going to a children’s hospital in the morning and then you may have had a sponsor who paid $10-$15,000 for you to be there, you have to be at that cocktail hour, and you have to be perky, and nice, and happy and take pictures, and then you are going to do a speech for the dinner at 8 o’clock and then you have to stick around.”
But it wasn’t all work. She also enjoyed the perks.
“I went to Taco Bell in a limo," she said. “I also went to Walmart in the middle of the night and I had a security escort."
Since Dunlap’s days representing the Sunshine State as Miss Florida, she has remained an advocate for her community and has dabbled in politics.
But she says that moving forward, she is more interested in helping other candidates “who may need a little polishing” and is positioning herself to be Orlando’s Olivia Pope.