Ka’Lise Benson is a rising junior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts as a Theater Arts student. She loves to perform and has won several state titles in the dramatic arts. From volunteering at camps to participating in The World Games Youth Choir this summer, Ka’Lise has always been one to happily serve her community in any capacity possible. Her dedication to improving Birmingham is one of the many qualities that distinguishes her from others. Recently, Ka’Lise has gained the title of being the 2023 Miss Birmingham Teen USA. Keep reading to learn more about what she is doing for the Birmingham community, and how she wants our educational system to improve.
Tell us about how you got interested in becoming the 2023 Miss Birmingham Teen USA.
“Miss Birmingham Teen USA was very unexpected. I got accepted last year, but I couldn’t do it because of the schedule. This past year, I wanted to try over the summer and apply again. I really wanted it to work out because everyone I’ve talked to who does pageants and similar activities says it’s such a fulfilling and rewarding experience. I got an acceptance email back this summer, and I zoomed with some state directors and other girls. Later, I got a call telling me this title was available, and that I should submit for it. It was so unexpected but exciting.
For me, becoming Miss Birmingham Teen USA was primarily about the connection to others, and the friendships and bonds I would make, in addition to the amazing scholarship opportunities. That’s what was really important to me: meeting new people and having new experiences.”
What have you been focusing and working on in this role? How has it helped you become more active in the community?
“For me, it’s all about transparent education – giving every child the opportunity to learn effectively without any barriers, whether that’s age, race, etc. Whatever information and knowledge is available, kids should be able to have. It shouldn’t be hidden or held back because of these barriers. None of that should affect someone’s education.
This is something I’ve been working towards and actually trying to put action behind since last November. I wrote an article on this topic for the Learning for Justice magazine (link below). I am currently doing a public administration and affairs internship, and it has a lot of this educational research involved.
Right now, my role is gathering the necessary information and meeting with community leaders. I’ve been gathering information on the educational system in Birmingham because I feel like I can’t go in and change anything unless I understand the history behind it. I need to know who and what got the educational system to where it is in order to see what it can be in the future. So right now, it’s more of a research type position.
Anyone that knows me personally knows that I am a straightforward person. Honesty and being yourself is something that is super important to me. So when it comes to my education, I want those who are responsible for teaching me and others to be transparent with the facts.
Obviously having a title like Miss Birmingham Teen USA gets you in a position to meet more people and have more of a public appearance. But I think in terms of being able to advocate what you stand for and what you want to see, it’s more about your internal drive – it’s the person behind the title. Now, getting in the room and getting in front of the right people is what my title will really help me with, but again, in order to have your ideas be received well, the person behind the title is what really matters.”
What would you like for Birmingham to look like in the future?
“My biggest hope for Birmingham is to see more diversity and inclusion- in education, publications, media, stores, etc. A lot of what we learn lacks representation. The only black history I learned in school was about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. There was no information on what other black people have been able to do for this country, and what they have been able to achieve as a culture. Honestly, I was never really taught much more about other cultures either. This is something that we’ve been working on, but I want there to be more representation in every aspect of Birmingham life, from the people who work in our local grocery stores to the people who make public decisions about our lives.”
Why do you think it is important that younger people should be engaged with their community?
“Being involved in your community is valuable for a myriad of reasons. For one, your community and its leaders are making decisions that will impact you; so I think being involved and knowing what’s happening is extremely important. Being involved also gives you an opportunity to learn and grow. I don’t think you can know where you’re going unless you know where you came from.
You don’t just want to live – you want to thrive. You want to live your life on purpose, where you can be fulfilled and feel of value. Learning about the things that shape you and your community can give you that internal drive and ambition that you need to help others. If anything, you should get involved to learn about yourself.”