The places change, the numbers change, but the choice of weapon remains the same. In the United States, people who want to kill a lot of other people most often do it with guns. Most of the victims are chosen not for what they have done but simply for where they happen to be.

Americans own an estimated 265m guns, more than one gun for every adult. Data from the Gun Violence Archive reveals there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – nine out of every 10 days on average.

The beautiful Ashli Turner, who'll be competing for the crown of Miss Black USA 2018, choose to advocate for education and non-violence in urban communities - "When I was a little girl I was disinterested in pageantry. There were no title holders who I could truly say I could relate to. No one came from a similar background, such as a title from an urban community filled with gun violence and from a young single parent home" - she explained.

Ashli grew up in the urban core of Kansas City and she is the first in her family to become a collegiate graduate (she graduated from Northeast High School and obtained her bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from Missouri Southern State University). Her advocacy for the urban community stems from striving to break the cycle most known to inner cities.

Lets know a little more about Ashli's story and her journey to the crown of Miss Black USA through this interview! Did you know ? The Miss Black USA Organization is the first and oldest scholarship pageant for women of color, awarding over $500,000 in scholarships.  The pageant empowers women to own their power and celebrates their unique talents, traits and beauty.  

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For those of you old enough to remember, it was Sept. 18, 1983 when Vanessa Williams, a college student at Syracuse University bested 50 other contestants to become the first black woman to win the pageant. Even more significant was the fact that the first runner up and eventual Miss America herself, was another 20-year-old black woman named Suzette Charles. They were not the first black contestants to compete in the national pageant. That historical distinction is given to Cheryl Brown who was Miss Iowa 1970.

Since the historic crowning of Williams, seven other black women and one Asian woman have won the Miss America crown. However the Miss America Organization has never crowned a woman of color in the Miss Tennessee Pageant. Elise Stein's goal is to become this very first woman - "Young girls of color need a role model in the community, and I'm most certainly someone they can look up to. I want to break the stereotype of what Miss Tennessee typically looks like — a blonde or brunette, with blue eyes" - she explained.

To be Miss Tennessee Elise thinks you must be very tenacious - "It takes daily and weekly effort. You have push yourself to be on a regimented schedule: eating healthy, going to the gym every morning at 6 a.m., volunteering in your community and working on yourself and platform. To say the least, it’s a job, but it’s worth it."

If she wins the title Elise Stein will have the opportunity to represent her state in the prestigious Miss America Contest later this year. Did you know ? The state has won the crown 2 times; in 1947 with Barbara Jo Walker and in 1987 with Kellye Cash.

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You may know her as Miss Minnesota United States 2018 but Mandy Peterson is also a suicide-attempt survivor. Depression and mental health awareness are now the forefront of Mandy's personal and professional life - "Without the crown I know I was making a difference for many individuals but now with the crown and the backing of such supportive directors I feel unstoppable" - she explained.

Peterson has shared her own battle with depression to military, students, even parents not only in Minnesota but around the world just in the four short weeks she has had her title - "I will continue to use my passion to inform people that they are not alone, and they can overcome their battle" - she added.

The reality is that 1 in 4 people will suffer from depression or some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Mandy Peterson is in a place now where she can see the positives of her battle with Depression and most of the time she feels grateful that she has experienced this because of what it has taught her.

Mandy will have the opportunity to represent the state of Minnesota at the 2018 Miss United States Pageant later this year.

Did you know ? The reigning Miss United States 2017 is Farida Baligh of Florida, crowned on July 8, 2017 at the Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate in Orlando, Florida. Notable past Miss United States titleholders include Miss United States 2014 Elizabeth Safrit who represented the United States at Miss World 2014 in London where she placed as the 2nd runner-up and earned the title Miss World Americas.

Lets know a little more about her inspiring story and her journey to the crown through this interview!

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She survived. She did. Desna Johnson went through an extremely tragic thing when she was only 8. She lost her mother, brother and grandmother in a car accident that she was also involved in - "I lost three important people in my life and I almost died as well but was blessed to walk away from the car accident with two broken arms. I was broken at the age of eight. I didn't know how I was going to live a happy life without my family until I went to grief counseling and learned how to be better" - she explained.

Traumatic events can rattle us to the core, leaving us in shambles both mentally and physically. But despite all the glaring negatives, traumatic events can also transform us into stronger, better individuals. And this is what happened to Desna Johnson.

Desna now wants to help people who experience continuing difficulties following a traumatic experience, she even launched her own platform called We Grieve Together - "I want to be that beacon of hope for those that are going through a tragedy in their lives that they feel like they can't get better from. I believe that by sharing my story and by helping others I can be that hope and love people need" - she said.

By being crowned Miss Prince George's County 2018 Desna will have the opportunity to compete in the 2018 Miss Maryland Pageant later this year. The Miss Maryland competition is the pageant that selects the representative for the state of Maryland in the Miss America pageant. The state has never won the national title but they grabbed the second place in 1990 with Virginia Cha.

Lets know a little more about Desna's inspiring story and her journey to the crown through this interview!

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The gorgeous Cynthia Linnet Lau, a twenty one year old with Chinese, Spanish and Cuban roots, was crowned Miss Art Deco 2018.  Resilient, compassionate, and survivor would be the three words that define her.  She is a firm believer of “if a problem arises, come up with a solution, and run with it”. 

Since she was 13 years old, Cynthia lives by this mantra when diagnosed with a Gastro Intestinal Tumor and her life would never be the same. “The word CANCER is one of the scariest things for someone to hear, and so when it knocks on your door you cry, hope, struggle but above all else look for the cure.” From that moment on she lives day by day to her upmost potential because the path choose to embark on is the one that we will work for.

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There are as many reasons for entering a pageant as there are girls entering, and there is a story behind each one. Some enter pageants because their friends or family encourage them, others because their classmates are doing it. And many girls are lured by the enticing prizes, hefty scholarships and visions of future fame. Here's Emily Johnson story of transforming from a shy girl to a confident contestant - "Growing up with a speech disorder along with many years of speech therapy lead be to become very shy in my everyday life. Pageants was something I watched but never believed I could do due to this" - she explained.

Coming up into high school she decided to join her first pageant - "speaking in public and even one on one with others was the biggest obstacle I had to over come" - she added.

The beautiful Emily had to opportunity to represent Brainerd in the 2018 Miss Minnesota Teen United States Pageant earlier this year, read more about her story below!

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“There she is, Miss America. There she is, your ideal, the dream of a million girls who are more than pretty, can come true in Atlantic City. For she may turn out to be the queen of femininity” boomed the theme song at Miss America’s 1968 pageant. Outside, women were protesting the pageant, citing its misogyny, homophobia, and fatphobia, and also objecting to the Miss America Organization’s documented racism. 

In 1983, a 20-year-old Vanessa Williams became the first blackwoman to be crowned Miss America. It was a milestone many decades in the making - Vanessa Williams is the epitome of determination and grace. Vanessa Williams auspiciously paved the way for African American women in the pageant world" - confessed Anitra Byrum, the reigning Ms. Woman New York United States 2018.

As Ms. Woman New York United States Anitra will be a role model of good works, peaceful thinking, community service advocate, and ambassador of goodwill - "It is important that I lead a great example to women, children, and the community as a whole. I will do my very best to be inspirational. One of my favorite scriptures I live by; "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" - she explained.

Lets know a little more about Anitra's pageant experience through this interview!

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