Rogers is hours away from passing down her first sash ever (Miss Anguilla 2017) while stepping into the magnitude of her latest chapter when we catch up on her native island this past August. Though this moment wasn't always pinned to her vision board, the University of Birmingham graduate is more than ready to bear the weight of her crown. Read below as she discusses her unconventional start in pageantry, decision to compete beyond the Caribbean, and commitment to owning her light so others can do the same.
Shanice Davis: What was growing up in Anguilla like for you?
Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers: I think it was the typical Anguillian experience. I spent most of my time outside, running around barefoot, climbing trees, doing chores in the yard. I spent time going to the beach, picking sea grapes. It was very carefree, but I also spent a lot of my childhood reading. My mom felt it was very important to instill a love for reading in me at a young age, so she would buy me all the classics. That's something that's stuck with me. Those were things that typified my childhood. I also grew up on a farm, so it was slightly different in terms of responsibilities. There was a balance between play and hard work, which gave me a lot of discipline.
When did sports come into the picture?
Right off the bat. My mom and dad were athletes. I started running in preschool. My first loves were football and volleyball, but those were team sports, so you have to rely on team members to come out to training and be consistent. With my mom, there was never an option for me. I always had to be there and be disciplined, but sometimes that wouldn't be the case for my teammates. I decided to go into track and field because I thought I had more control. I would show up for myself every time.
How did you make the transition to pageantry?
In the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I was competing in the heptathlon. It's seven events over two days--a tough two days. On my second-to-last event, I was throwing the javelin, and there's a certain technique you use where your knee is supposed to come forward so that you can use the momentum to push the javelin, and for some reason my knee decided to stay behind, so I ended up with a severe knee injury that put a bit of an abrupt end to my dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete. I tried to come back to the sport, but my physios and my coach thought it was a bad idea because one thing you can't get back are your knees.
I decided if I had to quit, I'd have to put my energy into something else because I am a naturally competitive person. I looked for a while and didn't find anything. I participated in volleyball casually. Then, I started meeting previous pageant queens in Anguilla who told me I'd be so good if I competed. I was like, "No, I'm a tomboy." Then, when I was in the U.K., I saw the previous Miss Universe Great Britain, Anna Maria Burdzy's profile. I'm a keen believer that everything you see or everything that happens isn't a coincidence, so all of those interactions led me to believe that there was something in this area for me, and I decided to give it a shot.
Modeling. As an athlete, your body function is more geared towards efficiency, speed, and endurance. You're not paying attention to how your body looks. That was something that was quite difficult for me. My chaperone and I still talk about my track thumb. Sticking my thumb out had been innate to me, so changing those little things and finding a way to move gracefully was a big challenge. I'd always been involved in debating, spoken word, and speech, so I had the background for interview, but modeling particularly seemed like the most difficult part for me.
You ultimately overcame that hurdle and took home the crown. How did you feel afterward?
I felt that I prepared completely. Whenever I go into anything, I always give it 150 percent. At least when I finished, I felt that it was my best. How I feel is more important than what the end result is. I was simply happy to be there. It wasn't even a matter of expecting the win so when I did, I was thankful.
Usually, we see Miss Anguilla move on to regional pageants in the Caribbean. Why did you decide to enter the running for Miss Universe Great Britain?
As I said, I'm naturally competitive. My goal as a young child was to make it to the Olympic Games, and I said, Well, why isn't there an Olympic Games for pageant girls? And then I realized there is one. It's called Miss Universe (laughs). It was about my drive. I have a very matriarchal family, and they always impress on me that the only limits in this world are in your mind, so from the time that I saw it was a possibility, I said, That's what I want to do. I never felt that I was unworthy of the title.
There were different challenges. There are more segments in the Miss Anguilla pageant, including cultural wear and costume. With this pageant, there were two interview rounds, which was intense. But overall, I think the challenge for the Miss Universe Great Britain competition was preparing myself internally to feel as though this was the place for me and one that I could be comfortable in and transform. Whenever I get into certain positions or I'm in a certain space, I don't just want it to be a space. I want that space to know that I was there.
Whenever I get into certain positions or I'm in a certain space, I don't just want it to be a space. I want that space to know that I was there.
Not even once. I never thought about making history, and maybe this is because I'm a very introspective person. I was thinking about how this would make me feel, how this was a part of my journey, and how it could better my life. Those are statements that are important for anyone. When I won and saw the headlines, it kind of took me aback. I was like, What's happening? It was coming to terms with the fact that what I had done wasn't simply for me. It was for a large community.
Especially for young girls who look like you.
It's been very interesting. I've had quite a lot of media coverage after my win. There's a saying, "With great power comes great responsibility," and one thing I did know coming into this pageant is that I would be positioning myself as a role model. I knew that I would have eyes on me, especially young girls. Certain messages are very important for me to carry throughout my Miss Universe Great Britain reign and into the Miss Universe pageant, which are accepting myself, accepting my hair, accepting my complexion, and not making an apology for it. My message to young girls is don't be apologetic for who you are. The only thing that you accomplish by making apologies is reducing yourself. Your light is supposed to go into the world and shine brightly, but if you start to dim the light before you go out, then it's hard for others to see. I wanted others to see that I was going to be me, I was going to remain who I was, and that wouldn't change whether the world covered me or no one covered me.
You've been open about the adversity you've faced before this present moment. What message do you send to people who are in that dark place you once were in, in terms of rediscovering your purpose?
Every time you face a disappointment, it does set you back, but what I've learned is it's important to feel how you feel without allowing it to block you from seeing solutions. It's never too late to reinvent your dreams. I could've been stuck thinking that there was no purpose to my life after my injury.
There are some charities that are associated with the Miss Universe Great Britain organization, which are very dear to my heart. The first is stopping acid attacks against women in India. We also focus on supporting victims of female genital mutilation. We support the Black Mambas, which is an all-female anti-poaching unit in South Africa, and we provide programs for homeless women in Wales. It's a combination of all of these things centered on women's issues around the world. As global citizens, we have a responsibility to care for people outside of our own country.
What do you, especially, want the Anguillian community to take away from your win?
I really want them to take away that we are small in size, but we are limitless, and it's because of how we've been nurtured that we are able to go into the world unapologetically. We have the distinct advantage of seeing ourselves in every position across the board in our country, so there's no feeling of lack of representation, and when we go out into the world, we don't feel as though a particular space isn't for us. We need to continue to foster that feeling. Whether we want to become Olympic athletes or Miss Universes, whether we want to become neurosurgeons or biomedical engineers, the choice is open to us.
I'm still finding the words to describe how it felt to come home and come off that plane and see so many people there. My heart was the size of my chest with all the love they poured into it. It's the most precious feeling. You feel honored. When I say you feel chosen, it's not in a self-aggrandizing way but that there's a bigger purpose for you. That's a surreal feeling.