With passion and confidence, Contra Costan vies for Miss USA title
By Lou Fancher
Take a tall young girl, raise her in the broad-minded, progressive Bay Area to be proud of her multicultural, multiracial ancestry and you’ve got a natural leader.
“She’s always stood out and led,” said Sandra Williams, whose daughter India is that tall, capable leader. “As a middle school child over 6 feet tall, it was awkward, but now, she’s a radiant woman.”
The 20-year-old India Williams is carrying that leadership and radiance as Miss California to the 66th Miss USA pageant this Sunday (May 14). The winner of that competition at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas will represent the United States at the Miss Universe 2017 competition, among other perks and prizes.
Williams is a student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles studying business entrepreneurship. She grew up in Walnut Creek and Concord and lived in Lafayette while attending Acalanes High School. The 2014 Acalanes graduate said the Bay Area influenced her educational choices and career goals. Aiming for law school after college to concentrate on intellectual property rights, she said, “The great thing about the Bay Area is that it’s very open-minded. People have ambitions, and with Silicon Valley there, business and entrepreneurship is a huge part of the climate.”
Likewise, the area’s civil rights history focused her volunteer activities that include mentoring middle school students at The Incubator School in Southern California and support for Mixed Marrow, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the number of registered bone marrow and blood cell donors of mixed race.
In addition to mentoring and advocacy, Williams recruits her peers at Loyola Marymount to participate at the school — a video of eighth-grade students pitching and taking startup ideas to fruition she says is most persuasive — and Williams works to spread awareness about Mixed Marrow donor bank shortages.
“A great example of civic action I saw growing up was UC Berkeley,” India Williams said. “The history of protests for civil rights and being passionate about what you believe in is there. My interest in mentoring students comes from watching people fight for what they believe in.”
About her plans to host her first bone marrow registration drive, she said, “My mother and father are African American. I started thinking of if I had a blood related cancer and how I would be kept alive if there were shortages. I signed up to be a bone marrow donor.”
Sandra Williams said there are Native American, African, Asian and Scottish roots in her family’s lineage. Including aunts and uncles of mixed race, it is a family that lives and celebrates diversity. “She grew up in that culture. When she saw the need in that pool for donors, it spoke to her and she jumped aboard.”
India Williams’ parents have relocated to Mission Viejo, where they continue to run a haircare company. Williams said that watching her father, Charles Williams, develop and patent product lines fueled her ambition in significant ways.
“I learned as a child that successful careers come from hard work. My father has started two companies successfully, with only a high school diploma and no formal college experience,” India said. But she also saw him struggle to maintain protection of property rights. “Education has always been a major part of my plans,” she said.
So too is educating people about pageants. India’s mother said that modeling, winning leadership roles in student government and competing in pageants have built her daughter’s confidence. “The world of fashion modeling is changing. We see people of all body types. Swimsuits are changing from bikinis to active wear,” she said. “No one should be ashamed of their bodies.” she says.
Williams said the competitions do not emphasize beauty over empowerment. “It takes an incredibly competent woman to be onstage (in a swimsuit) in front of millions of people. The emphasis is not on the exterior — it’s on physical health, feeling confident about the skin you’re in, feeling passionate about your goals, sharing what you are doing and talking with the judges about what makes you a great title holder.”
Asked for a few memories of her years in the East Bay, she expressed gratitude for Susan Martin, a counselor at Acalanes. “She was an integral part of my growing into the woman I am today. I could go in and talk to her about anything — school, family, personal — she was sweet and supportive, she was always there for me.” Williams ended an interview with her recommendation for lunch: ”Casa Gourmet Burritos … If you live in Lafayette, you know where it is.”