Monday, July 16, 2007

Janelle Commissiong

On this date 30 years ago I was in front of the TV one hot summer night watching the Miss Universe Pageant. Little did I know that I was watching history being made by a girl from Trinidad.

During this 26th Miss Universe pageant being held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, then 24 year old Janelle Commissiong became the first woman of African descent to break through and win the Miss Universe crown. Even though she was from Trinidad, we African-Americans were just as proud of her as the Trinis, who issued three postage stamps in her honor and gave her the Trinity Cross, Trinidad's highest honor in celebration of her victory. Janelle ended up gracing the cover of Jet magazine and we felt connected to her not only because of our shared African ancestry but because she spent ten years living in New York before she returned home in 1976.

When her reign was over she moved on with her life. She got married to Brian Bowen, the founder of Bowen Marine, a successful Trinidad based boat building business. When he was killed in a November 1989 accident she took over running the business. Bowen Marine sells them not only across the Caribbean, but in the US and Europe as well. She started a cosmetics line in 1997 and has gotten married a second time to publishing executive Alwin Chow. She is stepmother to a 13 year old daughter named Sasha.

It took another twenty-one years before another Trini, statuesque Wendy Fitzwilliam won Miss Universe and became the third Black woman to win the crown. Janelle Commissiong Bowen Chow has not only become more beautiful over time, but has reinforced the old saying that true beauty is inside, not outside.

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