Persistence has paid off for Baylor University alum Bayleigh Dayton. Four years ago, she took her first steps toward becoming the first Black woman to win the Miss Missouri USA crown. After finishing in the top 16 of the 2013 pageant, Dayton re-entered the contest last year and finished as first runner-up. She was also awarded Miss Congeniality for 2016. This past weekend, the 23-year-old flight attendant and print model won the 2017 Miss Missouri USA title.
“Last year when I entered, I knew that my road to pageantry wasn’t finished,” Dayton told The Kansas City Star. “When I made top five last year I knew that I could do this. The insecurities weren’t there. It was easier for me to focus this year.”
Dayton advances to the nationally televised Miss USA Pageant next year. Miss USA would then advance to the internationally televised Miss Universe Pageant. She sees the potential effect of her newfound status on young Black girls in Missouri, a state with a well-documented history of racial strife.
“It’s awesome to be able to put a face with a title,” she said. “I’m obviously the first African-American titleholder in this position. Now girls have someone to look up to and can have an actual role model.”
Other Miss USA state pageants have crowned Black winners, including nearby Kansas. Dayton had to woo judges in a swimsuit and evening gown, and participate in personal interviews with judges to claim the piece of history she set her eyes on four years ago.
“When they called my name I was freaking out,” she said. “I had to calm myself down.”
Dayton looks forward to representing the state on and off the pageant stage, and she gave some insight into her philosophical approach to life.
“Learn to walk with kings and queens but never lose the common touch,” she said. “I want everybody to know that yes, I am a queen, but I am a queen for the people and I am here to serve.”