Fortitude brings teen success; Contestant: While enduring...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Fortitude brings teen success; Contestant: While enduring a 0) painful recuperation from an accident, Lakeisha Mixon went through the process that earned her the title of Miss Teen Baltimore 1997.

Less than two weeks after her 19th birthday last August, Lakeisha Mixon found herself lying in a hospital emergency room. Her body was marked with cuts, bruises and sprains, the result of a run-in with a drunken driver.

Her painful recovery left her feeling that she didn't have the energy to attend an informational meeting about a beauty pageant she had learned of just days earlier. But with the encouragement of her boyfriend, she decided to trudge ahead and show up.

Her decision paid off when on Dec. 1 at the Morris Mechanic Theatre, Mixon was crowned Miss Teen Baltimore 1997.

The 5-foot-9 beauty attributes her fortitude to the family values her parents instilled in her and her three younger siblings. Her self-discipline and strength, she says, carried her through physical therapy sessions three times a week while, in between, she secured sponsors for the pageant.

"You only get what you work for and ask for," Mixon says, echoing her mother's philosophy. "Everything that happens to you is not because of someone else."

Mixon entered the pageant with the goal of advancing her modeling career. In addition to the exposure her title offers, Mixon won a scholarship to a local modeling school and a trip to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the Miss Teen National pageant in February with contestants from 50 cities around the country.

Her perfectly arched eyebrows heighten with joy and humor as she reflects on her winning evening:

"This was my first pageant and the first time I wore makeup. I had spent two hours at the hairdresser's, and it rained. So by the time I got home, I had to fix my hair." In the formal-wear segment of the pageant, Mixon wore her high-school prom attire -- a white jumpsuit with a gold-encrusted bodice and flowing palazzo legs. "One of the pant legs fell into the gutter as I got into the car to go to the pageant," Mixon says, laughing. "Everything was going wrong."

Arriving at the Mechanic, Mixon was able to recover in the minutes that remained before the curtain went up. As it turned out, her pant leg got only a little wet, not soiled.

Mixon competed with 82 contestants in interview, casual-wear and formal-wear competitions.

"I was disappointed they didn't have a talent competition," Mixon says.

She enjoys performing on stage and was dubbed "Phenomenal Woman" by her Southwestern High School peers after she recited the Maya Angelou poem at a school black-history program.

A Baltimorean for the past seven years, Mixon moved from the Bronx, N.Y., at the age of 12. She describes the adjustment as "traumatizing" and recalls, "People didn't like me because I had a Bronx accent, long hair, and I dressed differently."

But by her senior year, she was voted vice president of the student government.

"If I hadn't been able to learn lessons and move on, I would have never been able to enter the pageant," insists Mixon, who has all but lost her Bronx accent. Her lessons now fuel her desire to counsel teen-agers in the future.

But for the next few months, she plans to focus on preparing for the national pageant. She has already secured local fashion designer Morrell Alexander to create her evening gown.

"Make your goals big," she says, smiling. "So if you get the next best thing, you'll be happy."

Somebody once said there's big money in peripherals. It works like this:

Disney makes a movie about a bunch of spotted dogs, and -- wham! -- Disney makes a fortune. Then Disney turns around and sells countless little plastic or furry renderings of spotted dogs (the peripherals), and -- wham! -- Disney makes another fortune.

Can the peripherals idea be applied to enterprises other than movies? The Enoch Pratt Central Library has been working peripherals for a long time. Has the Pratt made a fortune?

"We break even," says Averil Kadis, the library's spokeswoman. "We don't make pots of money." Pause. "Yet."

In the silence of that pause rings the sound of hope.

Born during renovation

It all started, as did so many things in Baltimore, with former Mayor William Donald Schaefer. During the Central Library's huge renovation in 1985, the mayor looked out from the second-floor Edgar Allan Poe Room, over the Pratt's huge atrium and upon the rubble of architectural re-creation below.

Turning to then library head Anna Curry, Schaefer asked: "What do you want to do with that space by the door?" (Or words to that effect.)

Curry said she always wanted a shop, a library boutique.

"Let there be a shop!" said the mayor (or words to that effect). And so there was -- and is.

For more than a decade, the library shop has been merchandising objects peripheral to the act of reading, that encourage it, facilitate it, celebrate it -- even command it.

Now that Christmas approaches, more people than usual visit the library shop. "This is our busiest time," says Joseph Alston, the shop's clerk and manager, as a customer (the only one at the moment) comes up to pay for his purchase. Maybe the rush comes later.

There's much there to buy: coffee mugs with pictures of famous authors; coffee mugs with the word READ printed on them. There are bookends of iron and ceramic, literary calendars and games, bookmarks, gargoyles (for your bookcase), stained-glass renderings of events in books, book boxes (to conceal things in), Pooh bears, tote bags, T-shirts and ties, and a multiplicity of greeting cards, jewelry (glittery necklaces of Venetian glass one might wear while reading -- a truly peripheral peripheral), lap desks for reading and writing, literarily pretentious refrigerator magnets (to gloss the humdrum of domestic life) and pillows with music boxes concealed inside, to induce slumber -- after reading.

It's all good stuff, and reasonably priced. And unlike the revenues from the copying machines, vending machines and library fines, which go in part into the city's general fund, every penny of profit from the kiosk goes to the Pratt's endowment fund.

Which is to say, when you buy something there, you contribute directly to the library's fiscal health.

Richard O'Mara

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