The District of Columbia has won back-to-back Miss USA titles and both of them are women of color.
Kara McCullough, a 25-year-old scientist working for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was crowned Sunday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the Las Vegas Strip. She will go on to compete on the Miss Universe contest.
“I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity,” she said after the event. “I just want to encourage so many women nationwide to find their passion in any subject possible and understand that nothing is difficult if you really, truly put the work in for it.”
During her time at Miss USA, McCullough received media attention and praise for deciding to compete with her natural hair, which was seen as support for the natural hair movement.
But going against the grain wasn’t exactly an easy choice for the 25-year-old. “When I choose to wear my hair curly, I was afraid,” she said. “I didn’t know if people were going to accept it…if anyone was going to be receptive to it at all.” The reaction, of course, has been better than she could have anticipated.
“I decided to embrace what makes me feel comfortable and what makes me feel the best and brightest on stage, but also embrace what other people can relate to,” she continued. “That typical, traditional sleek hair with a big tease, not to say it’s gone out the window, but it’s transitioning a lot.”
Fifty-one women representing each state and the nation’s capital participated in the decades-old competition. The runner-up of the night was Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg, a marketing and Spanish student at Rutgers University, while the second runner-up was Miss Minnesota Meridith Gould, who is studying apparel retail merchandising at the University of Minnesota.
McCullough was born in Naples, Italy, and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The child of military parents, she lived in multiple places and is a graduate of HBCU South Carolina State University. She said she wants to inspire children to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Last year, District of Columbia resident Deshauna Barber became the first-ever military member to win Miss USA.
The top five finalists where asked different questions that touched on the pros and cons of social media, women’s rights and issues affecting teenagers. McCullough was asked whether she thinks that affordable health care for all U.S. citizens is a right or a privilege. McCullough said it is a privilege.
“As a government employee, I’m granted health care and I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs.”
McCullough’s office at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission focuses on emergency preparedness. She said she will be discussing with her work supervisor whether she will take a leave of absence.
Now that her preparation toward the pageant is over, McCullough said she is looking forward to eating a Texas cheesesteak at Waffle House.
“All you need is mayonnaise,” she said.