Beauty and Brains
Miss Black Florida Leyanis Diaz uses her platforms in pageantry and journalism to empower minorities
By Kendyl Counts
With her dazzling smile and sparkling tiara, nobody would guess that Diaz is actually an introvert - always rather shy, she did not even consider competing in pageants until she was in college. When she was finally ready to break out of her comfort zone, Diaz realized that pageants offered a unique opportunity to focus on building her confidence. The interviews, presenting, heels, and outfits are all means of expression, in which Diaz can represent her personality and body in a way that she is comfortable with and proud of.
Diaz has a lot more to worry about, however, than hair and makeup. As Miss Black Florida, she has a slew of responsibilities on her shoulders, from attending community events to acquiring sponsorship and fundraising. With the eyes of the entire state of Florida on her, Diaz has discovered a unique chance to bring awareness to a cause close to her heart – minority empowerment. A minority herself, Diaz’s family immigrated to the United States from Cuba when she was three years old.
“My parents worked odd jobs in this country to make ends meet with language, transportation and other factors being a barrier for them,” Diaz said. “We came here in search of the American Dream, but it started to seem like both of them had given up on that dream. As I got older, I realized that maybe their American Dream was that I got to pursue mine.”
Sharing the sentiments of her parents, Diaz’s own American dream involves helping others reach theirs through organizations such as the Embrace Girls Foundation, Health in the Hood, the Women of Color Empowerment Institute, the South Florida Black Business Directory, and Dream Defenders. Though there are many, each has its own special significance to Diaz. Seeing herself in the young girls that she works with through the Embrace Girls Foundation, creating gardens in underserved communities to bring them healthy food options with Health in the Hood, and making the world a better place for people of color in Dream Defenders fill Diaz’s life with meaning.
Inspired by the organizations that she works with, Diaz founded one of her own this past year. Known as Major Marketplace, the online platform promotes minority businesses, linking them with supporters and conscious consumers.
Diaz also raises awareness of minority issues through her journalism career, serving as a voice for those who often go overlooked. A media coordinator for CNN and the Chief Executive and Creative Officer for her own company Leyanis Diaz Media and Productions, she works tirelessly to relay her message to a wider audience.
“I want to tell stories that mean something,” Diaz said. “I want to tell the immigrant story, the afro latinx story, those of poverty and ambition, and others that link people of color with good news.”
Though Diaz is eager to further pursue journalism, her ambitions rest on one condition – she must do so without changing who she is or what she looks like.
“People like me are underrepresented in the media industry and I'm looking to change that,” Diaz said. “I am working toward becoming an on-air personality and having my own talk show, working with brands and having an influence on my community and owning my own successful company, while being a spokesperson for entrepreneurship, technology, empowerment and wellness.”
With each graceful step she takes across the stage, Leyanis Diaz moves closer to her goal of empowering minorities in entrepreneurship, health, and education – but she can’t do it alone. Currently in 5th place for the Viewers Choice Competition for Miss Black USA, she needs help getting to first place. Each vote is a dollar, and the winner of Viewer’s Choice earns an automatic spot in the finals for Miss Black USA. Donations can be made at https://www.missblackusa.org/finalist16. Voting ends 11:59pm on Saturday, August 19, 2017.
“Winning Miss Black USA, would allow me to take what I'm doing to a national level but it takes a village,” Diaz said. “I want to empower others like me to know that their dreams are achievable regardless of where they come from.”