“It feels amazing to be that face that young black girls can look at and say, ‘yes she did that, so we can as well.'”
These are the words of Pamela Uba, a 26-year-old medical scientist.
She has been crowned Miss Ireland 2021, making her the first black woman in history to do so.
The competition has been running since 1947, but Pamela thinks it’s “crazy to think that 74 years passed before someone else won this.”
“I’m the first, and it feels incredible – people look up to me, and I never imagined I’d be in that position.”
Pamela moved to the Republic of Ireland from South Africa when she was seven years old, with her mother and three siblings.
They first resided in a direct provision centre, a system of asylum seeker housing, before relocating to County Mayo.
At the time, her mother received €9 per week from the government for each of her children.
“Life in the centre was quite strange; we were quite dependent on the government, we weren’t allowed to work, and it was a difficult time for my mother at the time.”
“It’s just a strange way to grow up; I didn’t like having my friends over because I didn’t want them to see me as being very different.”
Pamela went on to study medical science at university and is now employed at a hospital in Galway.
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“”I’ve been a frontline worker since the pandemic began, and it’s been crazy,” she said on Radio 1 Newsbeat. “We had to do a lot to try to get ahead of this wave that we were all expecting to come last year.”
She claims she became involved in pageants by chance, while working on the bar at the Miss Galway competition.
“One of the judges mistook me for a contestant that year, which I wasn’t, and she encouraged me to do it.”
Pamela won Miss Galway 2020 despite having no previous modelling experience.
Now that she has been crowned Miss Ireland, she says the reaction has been mostly positive.
“People have been extremely supportive; they are overjoyed to see us represented and are proud to be Irish.
“I’m so grateful to know that young girls now feel represented, because they see me out there doing things that I would have dreamed of doing as a young girl.”
However, there have been some negative comments and trolling.
“I don’t like to pay attention to them; I prefer to ignore everything.
“What gave me the most joy was helping my community and children who were like me and came from the same situation as myself.”
Her next stop will be the 2022 Miss World pageant, which will be held in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean.
She hopes to inspire young black girls to believe that they can accomplish anything.
“You are adequate, and your authenticity distinguishes you.
“Don’t put yourself in a box; instead, defy stereotypes and show them what we’re made of.”