A Queen’s Mind: Janese Bibbs, Miss Albany State University

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Often times, we take the Queens of the Royal Court for granted. Often times, we don’t realize that we objectify these amazing women. We don’t honor their intelligence. We don’t marvel at their valor. We don’t allow ourselves the time to hear these Queen’s engage in intellectual discourse. We barely allow them the time to breathe. Once a campus queen wins the spring elections at their respective HBCU’s, we put them to work.

We put these young women in a box. The way we treat our campus queens is reminiscent of Barbie Dolls put on display and paraded. We love to see them in their elegant outfits. We smile when we see them walk at the game and wave to the home crowd. We cry when we see them crowned in their coronation and celebrate them when they achieve tremendous feats such as pledging a Greek organization or graduating. We think this is true respect. However, we commit the worse act of disrespect. We are so in awe how these queen’s look and what these queen’s achieve that we don’t acknowledge their struggle. We shed no light on their pain.

In writing my newest book “A Queen’s Pain” I knew I was shouldering a huge responsibility. I was tasked with telling a original, authentic account of what campus queens go through in their journey to becoming a queen and even what they deal with once they have the crown. There was only so much I could talk about within confines of the book and in my documentary Election Season: The Story of True HBCU Queens. So, I’ve taken on the role of being the HBCU Royal Court Historian. I’m the Royal Court Insider, the interpreter of how these young women feel and the internal pain they grapple with to be as perfect as they possibly can be. This is why I created the “A Queen’s Mind” interview series.

I knew there was no one better to interview first but Janese Bibbs, Miss Albany State University for the 2018-2019 school year. As a senior at Fort Valley State University, I know a lot about Janese. FVSU and Albany have a bitter rivalry, one of the worse in the HBCU community. However, as the self-appointed “Royal Court Insider”, I had to give up my mantle of HBCU pettiness. It wasn’t hard. Janese is amazing.

I’d be remiss not to mention her beauty, looking like the HBCU version of Gabrielle Union. It’s what first caught my attention when I saw her across my newsfeed. Janese is breathtaking, with her brown-skin, royal poise and posture and her wardrobe that made me wonder if a personal stylist was an expense added in the Albany Royal Court budget. However, speaking to her about her road to becoming Miss Albany State reminded me why I respect HBCU Queens so much. Janese’s story is the epitome of strength, perseverance and faith and deserves to be shared with the world.

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Randall: Thank you so much for allowing me to do this interview! Truly an honor! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Janese Bibbs: Thank you for evening thinking of me to be interviewed! It is an honor for me. I must be doing something right! lol But I am Janese Nahkee Bibbs, but I go by Jan. I am a 21 year old, GRADUATING senior at The Unsinkable Albany State University in Albany, Georgia. I am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry.  

Randall: How was your high school career?

Janese: My high school years were some of the most challenging in my life. However, I feel as if they were  necessary to my growth. I attended South Elgin High School, in South Elgin, IL, located in a suburb northwest of Chicago.  South Elgin is a predominantly white school. Because of this, I stuck to a small group of black girls who I felt “understood” me. We were all in Honors & Advanced Placements classes and could relate to each other’s experience being a minority in a predominately white space. I wasn’t that active in high school. I only participated in track and this program called Guide Right. In Guide Right, I met my mentor who exposed me to HBCUs and he encouraged me to apply to as many as possible.

Randall: How’d you end up at Albany State University?

Janese: I always tell people it’s a funny story how I ended up at ASU. I actually found Albany State University through Google. I was searching for schools with good forensic science programs and ASU was listed. I applied and was accepted. However, I was so determined to enroll at Syracuse in New York. I changed my mind after I attended a student luncheon at Albany State the April of my senior year in high school. The campus was beautiful. The weather was perfect and the people I met were amazing. ASU is the epitome of southern hospitality. Everyone was so nice and welcoming! They helped me with my every need that day. That is what drew me into ASU and since then I’ve been in love with my university.

Randall: What made you choose to major in Chemistry? What do you want to do after graduation with that degree?

Janese: Like I mentioned previously, I came to ASU as a forensic science major with hopes of being a Medical Examiner. That slowly changed after taking General Chemistry I and II my freshman year. My professor made me fall in love with chemistry and I changed my major. After graduation I plan on enrolling into a Master’s Program that will prepare me for medical school. My ultimate goals are to attend Morehouse School of Medicine to later become a pediatric hematologist.

Randall: Let’s talk about your experience as a Ram! I want to go through your first few years at Albany. How was your:

  • Freshman Year?

Janese: My freshman year was one for the books! I made so many friends and had experiences I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I made some mistakes but I have no regrets. I was very standoffish when began my freshman year. I didn’t partake in any extracurricular activities outside of my major first semester. Because I wasn’t involved, I felt like I wasn’t getting the full college experiences. I decided to join several different clubs and organizations my second semester. I joined the Student Government Association, Habitat 4 Humanity, Florida Georgia Alliance for Minority Participation, and a host of others. Even after becoming more involved, I still felt as if I wasn’t tapping into all my university had to offer. So. I took a leap of faith and ran for Miss Sophomore March of 2016. I campaigned on the platform “I was H.E.R.E: Helping to Enrich ad Refine Enthusiasm. I saw the moral of my class dwindle as the year progressed. We became disconnected. I wanted to bond us back together by reinstilling the enthusiasm and pride we once had in each other and our university. In doing this, we’d be able to leave a mark on our campus. I fortunate to be crowned Miss Sophomore! I was ecstatic, ready to take on my new position. However, A few weeks after I won, my world seemed to crash. On May 6th, 2016 my step dad and uncle passed away. I felt defeated. Mind you, Finals Week was approaching. I literally went into every final, after not studying, and just prayed to God to guide my pencil as I took those tests. By the Grace of God I passed every class that semester with an A.

  • Sophomore Year? (Specifically your role as Miss Sophomore)

Janese: Sophomore year! Whew, chile! I think during my sophomore year I chose to just live in the moment. It seemed like a good idea at the time but, eventually, it took a toll on me. I’ll explain that more in a second. I was still dealing with the death of my step dad, but I immersed myself into my role as Miss Sophomore and my different organizations to cope with what I was feeling. I was constantly on go in between classes, events, and the Ram football games I walked as a member of the court. I felt like I never had time to breathe but my Royal Court family that year made everything better. They helped me to grow as an individual and a leader. Sophomore year was the year I developed as a leader. I learned how to communicate effectively and how collaborate with others. I also learned how to  plan events and I became a better public speaker. My second semester of sophomore year I pledged and became Spring ’17 initiate of the Psi Sigma Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity. After doing everything I wanted my sophomore year, I took a well needed break from being in the spotlight and decided to work in the background.

 

  • Junior Year?

Janese: Junior year was the most pivotal of my collegiate career. This was the year I lost myself. Because I decided to brush off my emotions by immersing myself in the work of orgs and classes, I started to battle with myself. I remember the internal turmoil I felt for negating my feelings and walking around like things were always okay when I wasn’t. I started to hang out with the wrong crowd of people doing the wrong things, all to cope with how I was feeling. I made a lot of bad decisions this year. I started living my life the way others wanted me to. I truly felt like I was at my lowest. I felt like this up until February of my Junior Year. My inner turmoil even affected me running for Miss Albany State University. I didn’t feel confident in my abilities to be able to lead my school. Nonetheless, I continued to pray to ask God that if this position was for me. While preparing to run, I distanced myself from a lot of things. I took this time to learn myself, and figure out who Janese Bibbs is. I found a lot of peace during this time as I prepared to run. I went to the interest meeting and I was the only candidate there for Miss Albany State University. I was confused, but continued to trust God. There was a second interest meeting and I went. Again, I was the only candidate. I couldn’t believe I would be running uncontested. I knew God had to be working. His favor was showing.

Randall: One thing I discuss in my newest book A Queen’s Pain is campus politics and the social environment at HBCU’s. In the book, the main character Raynetta Duram has a warped sense of what popularity is. She sees popularity and “clout” as being Greek (specifically a member of the Rho Eta sorority on Laketon State’s campus) and holding a title. In your opinion, what truly defines popularity?

Janese: I don’t necessarily like the term “popular” because I think people try to be popular for the wrong reasons. What defines popularity is how you make people feel. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel” I think what defines popularity is how much people are attracted to the person you truly are. People are attracted to authenticity.

Randall: Does popularity on campus and success go hand-in-hand?

Janese: I always tell people to pursue purpose over popularity. When you remain true to your purpose in life, your measure of success is unlimited because you don’t let anyone else define it. You must be true to your purpose and endeavors. So I would have to wholeheartedly disagree. I don’t think your success is defined by your popularity on campus.

Randall: How’d you rise to prominence at Albany State?

Janese: I rose to prominence by being involved on campus. I genuinely enjoyed being around different people. I felt fulfilled helping others. I loved being a vessel wherever I was needed. This, in turn, helped people to believe in me and push me to further heights.

Randall: How was your experience as Miss Sophomore at Albany State University and did it aid you in eventually becoming Miss Albany State University?

Janese: Being Miss Sophomore definitely contributed to my desire to become Miss Albany State University. I didn’t know it at the time but Geniquiya Merideth, Miss Albany State University 2016-2017, was molding me to become Miss ASU. It was small things she taught me that brought me to where I am now. She helped me in improving the way I walked and the way I spoke. She even exposed me to different aspects of how the university operated. She taught me how to remain poised in the most dire situations That’s  one thing I’ve learned from her that still aids me in my role today. Not only that. Being Miss Sophomore was a different feeling. It made me so happy to see other people happy because I had helped them. I wanted to do that on a larger scale and pour into my entire university as Miss ASU.

Randall: How was your experience in SGA?

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Janese: My experience in SGA began my freshman and sophomore year with our Spirit Committee. We would attend all the school games reciting chants and getting the students involved. Our overall goal was to boost student morale. I also served as class president my junior year. This was the year I started to work behind the scenes. I would help whenever I was needed, attend different meetings with administrators, and assist my class. I owe a lot to SGA because it taught me how to be a powerful leader.

Randall: What made you want to run to be Miss Albany State University?

Janese: I wanted to run for Miss Albany State University because since the day I stepped on this campus. The title continued to call on me my tenure here. From the students and professors to the administrators and custodial staff, they all have contributed to my personal growth. I ran for Miss Albany State University to repay my university. I did it to repay everyone for taking in this little girl from Chicago and turning her into a woman who is passionate and now knows her purpose. Because of Albany State I’m more powerful because I’m secure in myself. I am forever indebted to my institution.

Randall: Tell us about your campaign!

  • What was your platform?

Janese: My platform was “The Power of Your Element”. Through my platform, I challenged students to “turn their passions into purpose, and their purpose into power.”  I wanted students to tap into their inner element by first determining what they’re passionate about. Secondly, I wanted them to use their passions to determine what their purpose is in life.  I believe that when we align our passions with our purpose, we become powerful. We find power in walking in our element. My platform is about encouraging students to be more confident, to hold themselves to a high degree of integrity and esteem, and to be a powerful force to be reckoned with because they are secure in themselves and their aspirations.

 

  • What were strategies that you used to reach the students to garner their support?

Janese: One of the strategies that was most important to my campaign was meeting students where they are. I’ve continued to use this strategy in my reign. I made sure to go directly to the students. Because I knew I was running uncontested, I wanted to hear about their expectations for Miss Albany State University. I couldn’t be for them if I didn’t know what they wanted. Secondly, social media is a powerful tool! Use it! I would have my campaign team promote me and my platform still. I tried to come up with creative event names and hashtags. Thirdly, FOOD! Students love free food. They’ll come to a lot of events if there is good food lol. Just make sure to let them know what you have to say before giving out food.

 

  • What were some problems that you encountered in your campaign and how did you overcome them?

Janese: One of the problems I encountered was self-doubt. I overheard someone say they didn’t think I was fit to be Miss ASU because they felt I was just given the position. At the time, it made me feel incompetent. It was like everything I did in my years at ASU didn’t matter. I had to learn that you can’t please everyone. But what I also learned is you don’t have to do things to prove naysayers wrong. Instead, strive prove the people right who believe in you. To overcome every obstacle I encountered I turned to the power of prayer. I had to remember that I had prayed for this position for so long, and God was giving it to me for a reason. I just had to tap into it.

 

  • How’d it feel when you found out that you won?

Janese: When campaigning was over, I felt like I could breathe again. I was happy to officially be announced as Miss Albany State University. Honestly, I still feel the same way I felt when I found out I won. It’s a hard feeling to describe but, I had to describe it in one word, I’d say I feel blessed.

Randall: The past few weeks in Albany have been turbulent. Albany State suffered immensely from Hurricane Michael and you guys are grieving the unexpected loss of a peer. How are you able to reign through this and how are you able to process all of this and still keep your poise?

Janese: The one thing I’ve learned about ASU, is that we are Unsinkable. We have survived four major floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. With everything this university and its students have faced, we shouldn’t still be standing. But we are. That speaks a lot to the character of my institution. We are resilient. We are unsinkable. I’m able to reign through everything because I know through it all we will get through anything. Our students, administrators, alumni, and community members will continue to support this beloved institution no matter what.

Randall: Tell us about your coronation! How was it and how were you feeling?

Janese: Every queen dreams of their coronation being like a fairytale. It’s a day we look forward to. My coronation was nothing short of amazing. I couldn’t stop crying because I was overwhelmed with the amount of support and appreciation I received. I couldn’t believe it. In the back of my head I know I was always trying to put my university and its students first, and they showed me they were grateful for that.

 

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 Randall: How’d it feel to go viral this past summer with the other HBCU Queens?

Janese: I actually thought it was pretty cool to be recognized by some of the more prominent social media pages in the HBCU world because my school doesn’t always receive recognition.

Randall: How’d it feel to meet HBCU queens from other schools?

Janese: Meeting my sister queens was a wonderful experience! Whether if it was at a conference, a game, the NBCA Hall of Fame Pageant, whatever it was always an amazing time. You definitely build a bond with your sister queens. They’re the ones, if I can still you shine for a moment, understand “A Queen’s Pain”. They can empathize about certain situations that other people just can’t seem to understand. I love that all my sister queens are so supportive no matter what, and I am grateful for them.

Randall: How was National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame weekend?

Janese: I was beyond nervous to compete in the Hall of Fame pageant. I remember feeling so unprepared beforehand due to unforeseen circumstances. But I continued because I had to represent ASU no matter what. The entire experience was phenomenal. Outside of the pageant we got to attend sessions, network with notable HBCU alum, and I even finally got to go to the Atlanta aquarium! My sister queens made the experience even better. They were so supportive! At no time in the week did I feel like it was a competition with them. They made everything even more enjoyable than it already was.

Randall: What’s next for you in your reign?

Janese: Now that football season is over, I don’t have to travel as much. The next step is implementing effective programs that contribute to my student body’s experience. I’ve come up with some great things that I think they will enjoy and I am excited to begin the Spring semester.

Randall: Where can we find you on social media?

Janese: I can be found on Facebook page. My name on there is Janese Bibbs. I also use twitter and Instagram very heavily, my social media handle for both us @kingxshe. I love speaking to people on there. Just mention me or send me a DM!

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