GLENWOOD | A Glenwood woman will compete for the title of Miss Illinois in June.
Ariel Fuller, a 2008 Bloom Township High School graduate, earned that right by winning the title of Miss Windy City 2013 last month.
After finishing as runner-up in the Miss Black USA Illinois Scholarship Pageant in October, Fuller was surprised at the victory in her first-ever attempt at a local Miss America Organization pageant.
"When I won, actually, Miss Windy City, I was like, what did I get into?" Fuller said. "But I'm excited."
In addition to the talent she displayed in performing lyrical dance with American Sign Language, it seems the judges must have been impressed with her response to the question of how she would utilize the platform the title of Miss America would provide.
"I basically told them that I would use my crown to impact other girls and promote holistic prosperity within — so, educating them on how to be mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually stable."
Fuller already fosters these attributes in girls through an organization she founded called Dunamis.
"It's Greek and it stems from the English word dynamic, dynamite," she said.
Through her organization, Fuller works with girls ages 13 to 17 at a school in Chicago Heights to teach them "to not be victims of their surroundings."
Fuller's organization shares the same name with Dunamis Women and Real Awesome Men Magazine, which was founded by her mother.
Fuller serves as editor-in-chief of her mom's quarterly magazine, which highlights people who are making a positive impact.
"It's basically a magazine that helps educate, expose and empower people within the community," Fuller said.
The 23-year-old also has found time to start a local cable access television show on Comcast, in which she enlightens teens about various topics.
Besides that, she works on an online radio show for Total Christian Media from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays.
Fuller also serves as an advocate* for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's organ donation program.
"He actually signed me up to be an organ donor," she said. "That's how it started."
If Fuller wins the title of Miss Illinois, she plans to travel the state to raise awareness about her platform, which is human papilloma virus and cervical cancer awareness.
"I always tell people, you don't live your life for you, you live your life for other people," she said.
Roshonda Payne met Fuller while serving as executive director and producer for the Miss Black Illinois Pageant 2012-2013.
Fuller credits Payne with encouraging her to enter the Miss America Organization pageant.
"She just has a spirit of serving," Payne said of Fuller. "She's small in stature, but she's big in just her attitude and personality and the things that she can do. She's soft spoken, but when it's time for her to launch out with a passion, she's very driven and dedicated."
Payne, the 1996 Miss Black Illinois winner, thinks Fuller has all the qualifications necessary to win the Miss Illinois title.
"I can see her walking on the stage in the Miss America pageant," Payne said.
Before Fuller can compete in the Miss Illinois pageant in June, she must raise at least $300 for the Children's Miracle Network, which helps fund children's hospitals.
But the ambitious Fuller has set her goal at $1,000.
Donations can be made online at missamericaforkids.org/Donate/ArielFuller.
Besides her goal of winning the Miss Illinois title, Fuller plans to apply to DePaul University to earn a masters degree in relational communication.
She hopes to use the $500 scholarship award she won along with her recent title to enable her to work with families to relieve financial stress, which she said is the number one cause of divorce.
* Editor's note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version. Fuller also serves as an advocate* for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's organ donation program.