WHEN Israel Harrison's name was announced among the top-eight finalists in the recently concluded Miss International pageant, she said the opportunity presented itself for her to advocate for autistic persons.
"The main reason I entered the pageant world is that I honestly believe that I can use my beauty and my strength to be the voice of my community. So when the name 'Jamaica' was called out during the finals of the pageant, God was just opening the door for me to speak. So, yes, I was a bit pleasantly surprised, but I wasn't completely shocked or overwhelmed," Harrison told the Jamaica Observer.
The 60th staging of the Miss International pageant took place on Tuesday at the Tokyo Dome City Hall in Japan.
Miss Germany Jasmine Selberg was declared winner while the delegates representing Cabo Verde, Peru, Colombia and Dominican Republic were second, third, fourth, and fifth, respectively. The top eight also included representatives from Canada and Spain.
Harrison is from Lluidas Vale in St Catherine. She was recently diagnosed as autistic.
"I am someone who believes in God and the power of prayer. I spoke to God and said, 'God, please, the world needs to hear about autism, inclusion and acceptance'. I believe this was my purpose and I was destined to speak about how under-represented we are, all over the world — not just in the Caribbean. Persons on the spectrum need an advocate [who is autistic] to speak on our behalf," said Harrison.
"Over the two weeks at the pageant, I was filled with happiness and joy to be able to represent the autism community—especially little black girls who watched me and were filled with genuine excitement and hope. To me, it is absolutely imperative that we focus deliberate efforts on reducing disparities for persons who must navigate life on the autism spectrum. Sustaining human capital, good health and well-being among persons like me — in Jamaica and around the world — is important to me because it's a real matter of life with or without the prospect of true empowerment and dignity."
"Persons with disabilities and delayed neuro-developmental conditions [like autism] continue to face persistent inequality in access to a whole range of common services, including quality health care; as well as opportunities for advancement in education; and opportunities to pursue gainful employment in fields of our own choosing. Over the past few years, I have been working on an advocacy effort called the Soul Star Project. It is designed specifically to spread increased positive awareness about ASD [autism spectrum disorder]. And by using my own story, my hope is to inspire and uplift others who are just like me," she continued.
Harrison, who was a member of the Silver Birds Steel band for a year, plays the triple cello steel pan. She also worked at the RUI Hotel in St Ann.
Earlier this year, she was crowned Miss International Jamaica 2022 when she participated in the AndWar pageant in April.
Andrew Harris is chief of the AndWar International Academy, the franchisee for four other international pageants.
"This has been a real journey, not only do we have Israel, but there are also four other queens on our team. For us, it's been a true work of love and an honest work of vision," said Harris.
"In early 2020, we established the AndWar International Academy—it's a finishing school of sorts. Young women and young men who enter our academy can exceed their own expectations—through guided exposure to pageantry. Before and after Israel won the Miss Jamaica blue crown at the April 2022 staging of the AndWar International Pageant, she received training through our academy. We coached Israel specifically on the many elements of style, current affairs, and public speaking—using creative workshops, photoshoots, videography sessions, brand ambassadorships, and a wide range of other practical exercises [conducted both virtually/online and in-person]. We also taught Israel all the necessary guides that effectively advanced her abilities in public speaking, presentations, make-up application, stage presence, expressions of elegance, grace, decorum and confidence."
"Jamaica can now see that the AndWar International Group is not only a legitimate pageant player, but we are also on our way to becoming a serious design house in the Caribbean as well," he added.