Justus Coleman never expected to become Miss Indiana University. She told her parents they could stay home for her sister’s birthday party. Her fiancée bought a plastic crown from Claire’s for her, so regardless she would have some sort of crown at the end of the night. Justus simply wanted to make memories and have a great day.
And then she won the whole thing.
“I could not believe it,” said Justus. “I had recently seen the Steve Harvey video where he crowned the wrong winner, and I thought, ‘Please don’t let that be this moment.’ I was just thinking ‘Is this real? Is this really happening?’”
While Justus had competed in other pageants before, she originally hesitated to enter the Miss IU pageant. She said it took awhile for her to build up her confidence, especially around other competitors who had more prior Miss America pageant experience. Eventually, she looked inside herself to find the motivation to compete.
“It took me just reminding myself that I don’t have to become this other person to do it. I can literally just go and be who I am, and I don’t have to practice saying my name over and over. It was really just collecting my emotions and getting myself together and getting that courage.”
Justus exemplified courage and poise on stage, particularly during her talent competition, where she showcased her talent of speed painting where she brought a canvas onstage and created a painting in ninety seconds. Then disaster: her easel broke mid-performance. Despite a major setback and limited time to recover, Justus held her composure, finished her talent and curtseyed to the crowd receiving overwhelming applause. Justus shined all day long from strutting in her bright orange bikini to elegantly gliding onstage in her lace gown to addressing issues with race on campus with her on-stage question. Justus’ was the epitome of intelligence, beauty and grace onstage.
Moving forward, Justus’ excitement overflows thinking of meeting new people, having life-changing experiences and seeing what this year has to offer. Justus’ confidence and independence won’t alter because of this title, but she is thrilled to seek new adventures as a titleholder. “I’m most looking forward to growing and developing as a person. I’m not taking this experience and making it my identity. Instead, I’m allowing these experiences to allow for further growth and development. I’m really excited for more relationships to develop.”
As Miss IU, Justus will develop her platform Cultivating Sisterhood and Support Among Women. Justus has made it her mission to empower women and create a sisterly bond to support one another. Justus empowers young girls as a mentor for children at Fairview Elementary and founder of Pinky Promise at IU. Justus’ experiences gave her the opportunity to form relationships with young girls, and as a titleholder she hopes to be a larger role model and make an even larger influence.
“My platform means a lot to me, and it was solely bringing that platform to the attention of hundreds of people that made me want to compete. It was talking about something I was passionate about and meant a lot to me. That caused me to want to enter to this pageant.”
Justus plans to visit schools and host a small pageant where every girl receives an award to showcase to girls how beautiful they are on the inside and out. Justus wants to ensure these young ladies know they are enough by just being themselves.
Justus hopes to make a historical effect on campus and within the Bloomington community. In some ways she has already made that mark. She is just the second African American crowned Miss Indiana University, the first coming in 1959. Nancy Street Lyons, Miss IU 1959, faced adversity as students wrote letters criticizing her and questioning IU’s integrity for crowning an African-American woman.
Justus is thankful IU’s culture has changed since then. “I’m grateful my experience is nothing like hers. It really saddens me that she was treated the way she was. It’s amazing how the times have changed, and as the second black Miss IU, I’m excited to be a part of that history.”
Justus advocates students to become culturally competent, willing to learn and understand cultures other than their own. As someone proud of her heritage, Justus is active within the Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center and hopes her title gives her the opportunity to become a historically impactful African-American IU student. Justus says she loves walking past the wall in the Neal-Marshal of significant African-American students, and she hopes to have her photo up there one day.
“To think my picture might be up there means so much to me. If my kids go to IU and they are able to go to their cultural center and see their mom up on the wall for the things she did, it means a lot to me.”
More than anything, Justus wants everyone to know how appreciative she is to be given the opportunity of representing IU. “I’m so appreciative to be crowned and I didn’t come into it to be crowned. Throughout the whole thing I just thought I want to get all that I can out of this. I’m not expecting a crown, but let me leave here with relationships I didn’t have before and experiences I didn’t have before. I was so proud of myself for having the courage to come out.”
Justus also felt proud about her experiences with her fellow contestants. When fellow contestant, Kelsey Foster, had seriously injured her ankle during rehearsal Justus took the opportunity to make her still feel special. At first, Justus was hesitant and did not want to come off as forceful or weird when she asked Kelsey to pray with her, but she asked regardless because it was important to her. This moment held significant importance to Justus because it was integral to the goals she had set for herself for the day.
“We prayed, and after that and after that I thought, ‘This is what I wanted to do today,’” said Justus. “The things I’m doing and standing for – and being bold when I want to be the timid introvert. This makes me feel like a winner, and if I leave with my Claire’s crown, I feel like I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do today. I just kept telling myself that I feel like a winner. No matter what I feel like a winner.”