By Samantha Brandbergh
Growing up, Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien, ’17, always wanted to do pageants. After competing in and winning her first one during her freshman year at Rider — she was crowned Miss Violet and served as a representative for domestic abuse awareness — she strived for more.
That drive is what has recently earned her the crown of Miss Black New Jersey 2018.
Last year, while searching for possible scholarship-based pageants to compete in, Saint-Elien discovered the Miss Black New Jersey pageant, a branch of Miss Black USA.
“I was in disbelief [that] I had never heard of it before,” she said.
Miss Black USA is a nonprofit organization, aiming to provide educational opportunities and “[empower] women and [celebrate] their unique talents, traits and beauty,” according to its website.
Not only is the title of Miss Black New Jersey aiding Saint-Elien through her education for her master’s degree at Syracuse University, but it is also strengthening her desire to empower other women.
Saint-Elien currently runs a website called Adorned in Armor, which has quickly developed into her personal brand.
“It’s where I equip boss women with the tools to conquer life through faith and style,” she said. “My end goal is to be my own boss, so I do whatever it takes to get me there.”
Since graduating from Rider, Saint-Elien has jumpstarted her career by working remotely as an editorial assistant and customer service representative with the Independent Fashion Bloggers Network, as well as being the communications manager for a local interior design company and a fashion writer for Teen Vogue.
Although Saint-Elien may have a lot on her plate, it’s a sign of a successful future, according to Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Jonathan Millen.
“Tarah was a model of engaged learning before the program even existed,” he said. “Between her internships and professional focus, she approached her education from a very practical perspective. In doing so, she balanced a traditional liberal arts education with meaningful career preparation.”
Saint-Elien created Adorned in Armor to “bring light” to any situation, including those of her own. She plans on donating 20 percent of the proceeds she makes through her GoFundMe page, “Tarah Takes Heart — Miss Black NJ ’18,” to the American Stroke Association in honor of her mother.
“She’s always in pain and she’s always struggling but, after God, she has always been my main source of light,” she said.
In 2013, Saint-Elien’s mother suffered a stroke, unrelated to her pre-existing health problems.
Due to her health, Saint-Elien’s mother was already admitted into the hospital when the stroke occurred. She visited her mother with her three younger siblings when they realized “something wasn’t right.”
“She opened her mouth and nothing came out. When sound did come out, she was saying random words,” she wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Confused, she couldn’t remember her children’s names.”
Saint-Elien is using her platform of nearly 12,000 social media followers to honor her mother and raise awareness for stroke victims.
“My mom smiles despite her troubles and is an inspiration to everyone she comes across and so I aspire to be and do the same,” she said.
Saint-Elien has already raised $970 of her $5,000 goal in the span of a month. She is confident the donations can contribute to a good cause and help get her to the national Miss Black USA competition in Washington, D.C., in August 2018.
In the meantime, Saint-Elien plans on representing New Jersey through speaking engagements and appearances, as well as volunteering for organizations within the stroke community, such as The National Heart Association.
For her successes to date, she credits her parents and her faith.
“I have been molded to be an ambitious and grounded woman who perseveres even if I’m tired of waiting, tired of fighting and tired of being tired,” she said. “My parents’ immovable faith instilled in me my very own, and I know it’s only by the grace of God that I have the voice that I have today.”
To donate to Saint-Elien’s GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/tarah-takes-heart
Printed in the 11/29/17 edition.