Growing up, Brijet Finister had been deemed too thin, too beautiful, too smart, or too successful, but never just right. Back then, this bothered her immensely, but during her college career she has embraced her strengths and lives in two seemingly opposing worlds: She mixes textbooks and tiaras.
Finister, a 21-year-old SF State English major, is the current Miss Black California, but she doesn’t rely on physical beauty and shifts the goal to pursuing excellence in school and being active in the community.
“It’s funny because I think a lot of people look at pageants as kind of superficial, like, ‘Oh, these people are all full of themselves and are just focused on being pretty,’ but it’s not just that,” Finister said. “I like this pageant because it gives me an opportunity to be a face for younger girls. You can look at me and say, ‘I can be like her,’ because I enjoy school and I do work in my community and it’s an inside-and-out thing.”
Throughout her childhood, she was seen as awkward because her classmates teased her about her appearance and undermined her intelligence.
“When I was growing up, I felt like I was really awkward because I was really tall and really skinny. All the kids would tease me because I was taller than even all the guys,” Finister said. “Sometimes as a kid, you think, ‘Oh, I wish I could change this because the boys like this girl, because she has this or that girl because she has that look.’ I just look back and see how far I’ve come and what I’m doing now.”
Her mother, Rhonda Finister, recalls that her daughter was frequently mocked because few people believed in her abilities.
“I remember in high school that she entered a school essay contest and she didn’t win and one of her supposed ‘best friends’ said, ‘About time you failed and that really upset her,” she said. “And others would also make fun of her build. She would be picked on, but we would talk (to) her and tell her that it was what is on the inside that counts. No matter how people look on the outside you have to be secure and beautiful inside, and Brijet reflects this beauty to this day now.”
Miss Black California is part of the Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant and Organization. The latter was founded in 1986 with the goal of celebrating scholastic achievement and providing educational opportunities to outstanding young women of color.
The pageant is a community-driven organization and is committed to addressing health and education, which are two leading social issues in the African-American community. Finister aims to tackle the latter by promoting fiscal responsibility.
“My platform is financial literacy, so just basically getting the word out to youth and even adults about finances so we can try to help change the way our society is going as far as finances go,” Finister said.
Finister conducts courses geared toward her platform by volunteering at an organization called Project Hope. Gary Martin, a volunteer coordinator there, has known Finister for two years since she began her work in Stockton, Calif., and around the Bay Area.
“She’s spent a lot of time studying the rules of money and how money works. She’s really worked very hard to separate herself from her peers with that responsibility,” Martin said. “Brijet immediately volunteered because she has the community interest at heart. She doesn’t get paid to do that, but it’s something she does because she loves what she does and she loves helping people. That really is what is attractive about her.”
Finister’s English adviser, Lawrence Hanley, said that juggling her pageant duties, community service hours and school time is also a part of her education.
“It’s tough enough these days to be committed and engaged as a full-time student for all kinds of reasons. Added on to that, I think the stuff she’s involved in, like the pageant stuff, has made it more complicated,” he said.
Finister prefers to keep her title as a pageant queen under wraps in order to avoid being judged.
“I don’t really like to boast a lot because I’m kind of reserved. If somebody asks me, I’ll tell them, but I don’t just come out and brag about myself,” Finister said. “When I start to speak, some people say ‘Oh, wow! I never would have guessed.’ Being pretty or looking a certain way makes people think, ‘Oh, they’re not intellectual’ or that there’s nothing really coming out of there. It’s kind of a stereotype in our society.”
According to Hanley, Finister has the ability to check her success with humility.
“She’s doing a lot of really unique and special things, but in the classroom she doesn’t make a big deal about that,” Hanley said. “She’s very good at kind of keeping things on the back burner and not trying to overwhelm other students with how well she’s doing and how successful she is. Brijet is one of those students that could benefit from being a little less humble.”
Finister believes that the most beautiful quality a person can have in life is being a caring individual.
“If you’re pretty on the outside but you have no intellectual ability, and you’re not nice and not a good person, then what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything,” she said.