At Blaze Group LLC, we aim to empower the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs with opportunities to pursue their dreams and succeed in their chosen spheres. To achieve this, we give back to Blaze Group Founder Casey Ariel Richardson's alma mater, the University of South Carolina - helping other young Black women reach their career aspirations.
To this end, we recently provided sponsorship to Taylor Williams, a graduating senior at the University of South Carolina who has accomplished extraordinary achievements both in and outside of her college campus!
Taylor was competing in pageantry at her college and needed to raise money to support the goal of the pageant, which was the creation of a memorial scholarship.
She had reached out to several businesses and individuals for support and got zero responses when Blaze Group agreed to sponsor her. Through the sponsorship we provided, Taylor was able to participate in the competition, where she won Miss Kappa Alpha Psi, a $1,000 scholarship, and the title of Miss Congeniality! Taylor has since gone on to win subsequent regional titles as well - including Miss Krimson and Kream (representing the Southeastern Province of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated) and the Highest-GPA Award.
"I even performed a spoken word poem titled “You are Enough” at the pageant which was a poem that I wrote during that difficult point in my life to remind myself that I WAS ENOUGH," said Williams.
We sat down with Taylor to learn more about her, the impact the sponsorship has had in helping her achieve her aspirations and the next phase in her journey.
We are so proud of you and all your inspiring accomplishments, Taylor! Can you share a little bit about yourself and your background?
Taylor: Thank you so much! Sure. My name is Taylor Williams, and I was born and raised in Columbia, SC. I am currently in the final weeks of my senior year at the University of South Carolina where I am majoring in Public Health on the Pre-Physicians’ Assistant (PA) track. In addition to the two titles that I recently received, I am involved on campus in numerous ways. This includes being:
President of the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students
Special Events Chair for the Black Honors Caucus
A student mentee in the Physicians’ Assistant Collaborative Training Program at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine
A Student Ambassador for the South Carolina Honors College, and
A student trainee in the South Carolina Maternal and Child Health and Leadership, Education, and Advancement in Undergraduate Pathways (SC MCH Leap).
When I’m not studying, working, or fulfilling obligations for my organizations, I enjoy cooking and baking new things, traveling, going on walks, and spending time with my family and friends. My ultimate career goal in life is to become a PA and improve health outcomes for Black and minority communities within the state of South Carolina.
Really dope stuff, sis! That's such an impressive resume. You mentioned receiving two titles recently - we'd love to know the why and how behind your pageantry journey. What was that like for you?
Taylor: I really would not describe myself as a “pageant girl” by any means. My first pageant was the “Miss Spring Valley Pageant” that I participated in during my senior year of high school as a final “hoorah” before I began college. Like most young girls, I grew up watching pageants and admiring the poise, grace, beauty, and intelligence that all the women exhibited at the competitions and I thought that I could at least try it.
When I participated in my high school pageant, I didn’t win any titles, and I quickly forgot about my pageantry talent completely! Looking back at that experience now as a senior in college, I can say that my biggest blunder in that pageant was simply that I lacked a lot of self-confidence and I had very low self-esteem.
Although pageants from the outside looking in, look like just a “pretty girl competition”, they take so much courage, strength, and belief in yourself in order to perform your absolute best. At that time, I didn’t have that belief in myself nor did I truly view myself as a beautiful person, so I believe that it showed in how I presented myself on that stage.
Those feelings that I had concerning myself during that time stemmed from periods of my life where I felt inadequate and “less than” due to years of bullying and ridicule that I experienced during my childhood.
It truly wasn’t until 2020, the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, that with the silence in the world, I had to face those insecurities - years of feeling inadequate, less than, and unworthy - head-on. That time of self-reflection was hard and uncomfortable, and I shed a lot of tears, but it truly changed the trajectory of my life.
After this growth in myself as a young woman over the last 3 years, I decided to participate in the Miss Kappa Alpha Psi Pageant during my senior year of college. I told myself at the beginning of my senior year of college that I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone in all capacities, so I signed up to participate in this pageant.
I honestly didn’t believe that I would win. I just had the singular goal in mind of showcasing this metamorphosis in myself from being a young woman that had low confidence in herself to now a woman that is confident, empowered, empathetic, and beautiful both inside and out.
I believe this belief that I had in myself, my faith in God, and my support system is what gave me the power to win that title. I even performed a spoken word poem titled “You are Enough” at the pageant which was a poem that I wrote during that difficult point in my life to remind myself that I WAS ENOUGH despite how I felt or what was deemed beautiful or acceptable by Society.
Being able to perform it as a transformed young woman was such a gift. After winning the title of Miss Kappa Alpha Psi at the University of South Carolina, I then went on to compete in the Southeastern Regional Pageant where I won the title of Miss Krimson and Kream, representing the Southeastern Province of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. I honestly feel like I am living in a dream, I never expected that these things would happen to me!
*wipes real tears* That is such a beautiful story, Taylor! At a time when the world was at its lowest point, you took that opportunity and spun it around to completely transform your life! You are a true embodiment of the power of self-confidence and grit. We honor you, beautiful.
So tell us, how did Blaze's sponsorship come about on this journey of yours?
Taylor: I became involved with Blaze Group LLC through my meeting with Ms. Casey Ariel Richardson, the founder, and CEO earlier this year. Ms. Richardson is a graduate of the University of South Carolina Honors College, and as the Special Events Chair for the Black Honors Caucus, I was able to connect with her to speak at our “Lunch and Learn” event in February of this year.
From that event, I just remember her words, her story, her heart for others, and her passion for her career being so evident in how she spoke. It was also at this “Lunch and Learn” that she talked about Blaze Group LLC. After the event, I was curious and decided to visit the company website to learn more. I was so astounded by the impact that it has had on Black woman entrepreneurs!
About a month later, I decided on a whim to reach out to Ms. Richardson via Blaze Group to see if the company would be willing to sponsor me in my pursuit to being Miss Kappa Alpha Psi, and she happily agreed! I honestly believe that meeting Ms. Richardson and then being sponsored by you all was truly a divine connection completely ordained by God!
Absolutely! We're also in awe. What was your initial reaction when you found out we were buying a full page in your souvenir booklet to sponsor you?
Taylor: I was overjoyed! By that time, I had already reached out to several businesses and individuals and got zero responses, so Blaze Group LLC agreeing to sponsor me in this capacity was such a moment of joy for me. In fact, the company was my only sponsor at the University level!
Furthermore, as pageant contestants, we were required to reach a minimum amount of fundraising to support the overall goal of the pageant which was the creation of a memorial scholarship titled the "Terrell G. Johnson Memorial Scholarship” by the Zeta Epsilon Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. Mr Terrell G. Johnson was a young man who was killed at a homecoming event at the University of South Carolina in 1979. The Chapter created this scholarship to commemorate his memory and his impact on the Chapter and on USC as a whole. The sponsorship by Blaze Group LLC enabled me to be able to support the efforts of the Chapter, which I am so grateful for!
Beautiful! Community support is imperative. Is there anything else you'd like to share about the impact of communal support?
Taylor: In addition to the financial aspect, I believe that this sponsorship from Blaze Group LLC also gave me a new family of empowered Black women across the globe that were supporting me. This support that I got from the company along with the support from my family and friends, gave me the passion to put my highest effort into the pageant, and the results speak for themselves! I was able to win at my University and place 1st runner-up at the Regional Pageant! Blaze Group LLC will forever be a part of my journey!
Thank you for granting us the opportunity to play even a small part in your astounding journey, Taylor. You've been on a hot winning streak! Can you give us a quick run down of all the titles you've won this year?
Taylor: Of course!
At the University pageant, I won first place and the title of Miss Kappa Alpha Psi for the Zeta Epsilon Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. This gave me a scholarship award that I will be using to fund my graduate school applications, along with the ability to represent my University and the Chapter at the Southeastern Regional Pageant that was held on March 31st in Atlanta, Georgia.
At my University pageant, I also was awarded the title of Miss Congeniality which was voted on by my pageant sisters and the pageant committee.
At the regional pageant, I competed against four other girls representing Universities across South Carolina and Georgia. At this pageant, I placed 1st runner-up and was crowned the title of Miss Krimson and Kream for the Southeastern Province of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. At the regional pageant, I also was awarded the highest-GPA award!
IMPRESSIVE!!! You deserves all the snaps! Well done on achieving such amazing feats, Taylor! We know things are only up from here. So, final question - now that you have several recent titles and awards under your belt, what is the next phase for you?
Taylor: In a few weeks, I will be a graduate of the University of South Carolina! It is honestly still so hard to believe. After graduation, I will be continuing my work as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and finalizing and submitting my applications for PA School. I hope to start PA School in 2024 and fulfill my life’s goal of becoming a primary care provider that can improve the healthcare disparities amongst Black and minority individuals across the State.
Furthermore, as Miss Kappa Alpha Psi, I have been given the ability to promote my platform titled “Empower One, Empower All” for the remainder of this year. This platform is dedicated to reaching out through mentorship, collaboration, and the acquisition of resources for public schools, especially those under-resourced and underfunded within my hometown of Columbia, SC. I am so excited to be able to advocate on behalf of my platform this year, and I am looking forward to impacting so many lives!
And we know you'd do great! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, Taylor! Your story was so beautiful to dissect. We wish you good luck in all your future endeavors and we want you to keep in touch throughout your journey! You're forever part of the Blaze family! :)
If you'd like to connect with Taylor and support her work, you can use the links below: