When Amber LaShae Kienlen, the first African-American to win Lee University’s 2011 Miss Parade of Favorites was crowned the favorite among her peers, she took a humble and modest approach to making history.
When asked about her landmark Nov. 12 win, Kienlen, who was also the recipient of the interview award and dance award, smiled ever so softly and said, “Yes, it was in the back of my mind. No, it was not in the forefront. It definitely was something I was aware of. I’m only 22, but it seems like a theme in my life.”
Kienlen said as far as she knows she was also the first prom queen of color, at Bradley Central High School in 2007.
“I think they had a Homecoming Queen of color but not a Prom Queen of color up to that point,” she said. “I also spoke at graduation. I was the class representative for Bradley Central. I don’t believe that had happened ever — a person of color speaking at graduation or being class representative.”
After she won the 49th Miss Parade of Favorites, Kienlen said Dr. Michael Laney, sponsor for UMOJA, Black Student Association Club, and the IMAGE Step Team, told her how proud he was of her and that she opened the door for other African-American women to be able to come after her.
“My father is white. My mother is black. They never raised me to get stuck on color,” Kienlen said. “We never had to make that an issue. But I realize it does make an impact, because the door is now open and I hope those coming after me will see that.”
But Kienlen, a 2007 Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society Inductee and Miss Diversity 2009, said she would like to be known for her social platform on child development, which helped seal her POF win.
“I want the community to know me for my passion,” she said. “I have a huge, huge passion for children. I’m in school to become a physician’s assistant. I want to work in pediatrics. But beyond that I want to one day build an orphanage. I’ve gone to the Honduras, on a medical missions trip two summers ago.
“I was there with students from Lee for about two weeks. We worked in clinics all over various cities and towns in Honduras. It was huge on my heart. I want to go back one day and build an orphanage there.”
The senior biology major who represented Lee as an Ambassador (A-Force) tour guide, and president and chaplain of UMOJA, Black Student Association Club, said her dream is to have one of the most outstanding orphanages ever offered to needy children.
“I don’t want it to be your typical orphanage,” she explained. “I want it to be the type of orphanage that kids who have moms and dads wished they were orphans to get into my program! I want them to come out completely well rounded and developed. That was actually my platform in Parade of Favorites.
“I want them to have everything — to be physically active, to have their own trainers that I will critique and hire myself, to have nutritional people over their food, to have their own shoes made — I want them to be intellectual and be able to speak various languages.
“I also want them to be involved in things so that their physical, emotional and spiritual needs are all taken care of. That’s my ultimate dream — showing children we care about their development and career.”
Kienlen laughed when she shared what first went through her mind when she heard her name called as the 2011 winner of Parade of Favorites.
“Since it has scholarship money attached to it and I need that — I was thinking, ‘Thank the Lord! I can pay for the rest of my semester.’ I was just thankful to God. It was a great blessing. It’s not all up to me. I was just so thankful.”
According to Lee Clarion online, eight ladies were chosen from varying clubs around campus to compete for the title. The student organizations competed through their academic career, co-curricular activities and service projects. Kienlen represented Lee’s step team, Image.
“I’m one of the charter members. We’ve only been established for about two years and we have done a lot,” she said. “We do a lot of mentoring and reaching out to the community. We went to Arnold Elementary for Career Day and talked to all the kids about our careers, our majors and what we do in the community.
“We helped the Cleveland Middle School girl’s dance team — performing for them and talking to them. We’ve also gone to churches in Chattanooga for youth groups. I’m very proud of Image and that we’re making such an impact in a short period of time.”
The contestants also competed for the crown in the categories of talent, formal wear, group dances and answering an interview question.
“It’s not just based on that one night,” Kienlen said. “It’s also GPA related. They check your grade-point average and your service in the community. I also won the interview award and that’s the highest amount of points you can get. That also played into my winning the title.”
The theme of the 49th show was “Back to the Beat,” which was chosen to celebrate diversity in leadership. For her talent, Kienlen performed an original poem titled “Can We Just Be Real?” that addressed adolescent issues. Kienlen said she was surprised to discover she was not the first in her family to blaze this trail at Lee.
“My mother was in the Parade of Favorites some 26 years ago and she won Miss Congeniality,” Kienlen said. “She also did Spoken Word for her talent, which I didn’t even know until after I had decided I was going to do that.”
A Cleveland native, Kienlen was a standout at Bradley Central High School as senior class president, student council, honor student, Bear Scholar, Tennessee Scholar, Chamber of Commerce Youth Leader, Health Occupational Student, Who’s Who Among American High School Students and Top Bi-lingual (Spanish) Student.
She was also a Summer camp co-counselor at the Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico, and is listed in the Who’s Who Among American College Students 2011.
Kienlen, the daughter of Angelia and Rich Kienlen, will graduate from Lee in May 2012. The vivacious young high achiever has been invited to Africa and Equador to serve on a medical missions team. Her plans after graduation include attending physicians assistant school in Harrogate or Nashville.