After high school, and sometimes beyond, is when most try to figure out and tap into their purpose. Former Miss USA, Tonielle Simone Watkis in search for her purpose. In underground at Adelphi University, Watkis had to create a capstone project. She decided to create, “No Boxes Allowed”.
“It’s all about me going through my life on this quest to find my identity,” she says. “In the process I try on a whole bunch of others — trying on and faking and adapting and ultimately, defining who I am.” She has written versions of different lengths appropriate for different audiences, from middle schoolers to adults. She’s even performed it off-Broadway.
Watkis, 25, graduated in 2014. After living in New York City for a few years, she returned home to save money and prepare for her next step in life. That’s when she learned about the Miss Black Connecticut competition and decided to try out. After winning that she went on to claim the national title.
Since then she has been a beacon light in empowering youth and other young women to pursue their passion. I recently interviewed Ms. Watkis. Check out the interview below:
Growing up and still to this day who inspires you? How did they impact your life?
This may seem a bit cliche’ but, I’ve always been inspired by my mom. She migrated to the U.S. in the early 80’s with to pieces of luggage to her name. Thanks to her hard work, she is now a home owner, holds two degrees and also put me through college. She’s superwoman in my eyes. She taught me how to be innovative and a pioneer in my own right.
As a former Miss Black USA, do you see yourself as a influential pillar to these young, Black girls and women?
I think that the title, Miss Black USA, itself is very influential and those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity of wearing it, step into such an iconic role. From the moment I was crowned, I knew that I would have very large shoes to fill as a role model, but I always believed that I had to live my life serving as a role model long before winning the crown in order to uphold the duties it required once I was chosen. Being a great influence to young, Black Women was what I endeavored to do in my everyday life prior to winning the crown. Earning the title of Miss Black USA further amplified my platform.
You are a founder/CEO of The No Boxes Allowed Project. Can you tell us what inspired the idea?
I initially wrote a one-woman play entitled No Boxes Allowed to fulfill my college capstone requirement in order to graduate. The play was about the many ways that I felt pressured to behave in certain ways to live up to the stereotypical ideals others imposed upon me about what it meant to be a young black woman. I realized that youth are most often often pressured about who they should be, how they should be, and constantly made to feel like they have to fit the “boxes” society imposes upon us all and it greatly impacts them. So, I developed The No Boxes Allowed Project, a mobile art education program which utilizes, performance, theatre based workshops, service, scholarships and motivational speeches to empower youth and young women to be boundless in pursuit of their passions.