Athena Fleming: Ms. Golden State

Athena Fleming, Ms. Golden State 2019, also will be competing in the Ms. America pageant this week.

Pageants are evolving and opening doors to a wider range of women, and this week's Ms. America Pageant happening at the Queen Mary is no different.

The annual Ms. America pageant — a separate pageant from Miss America — is a scholarship pageant for women 26 years and older and of any marital status (the Miss America pageant is for women 17 to 24 years old who have never been married and are not mothers).

And like other pageants — including the Miss/Ms. Long Beach pageant— the Ms. America event does not include a talent or swimsuit portion. Contestants will be competing with evening-wear and sports-wear, with emphasis on their on-stage interview questions. 

Long Beach's own Athena Fleming, titled Ms. Golden State 2019, is competing for the Ms. America title this weekend. 

Fleming is a Coast Guard veteran, Long Beach Transit employee and a longtime volunteer at Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit that delivers care packages to military troops overseas.

She told the Grunion earlier this year that she found pageantry in her 30s, winning the Ms. Woman California title in 2017, and last year, walked away with the Ms. Golden State 2019 title. Now she's hoping to become the next Ms. America.

"Before running for a title, I didn't know what I was going to do," she said, "After leaving the military, I felt lost, had different jobs, but couldn't find something that gave me real purpose."

This year's winner will receive a total of $12,880, which will be granted to a charity organization of their choice. For many organizations, that money can make all the difference, Fleming said.

"The titles give me a platform," Fleming said. "I wouldn't be able to meet as many people and advocate for Operation Gratitude at the capacity I do without it."

The pageant will take place in four parts: Ms. America, Ms. International, Ms. America International (40 years and older) and Ms. American Elite (50 years and older). The Ms. America Elite competitions is new to the pageant series. 

Reigning titleholders are Brittany Wagner (Ms. America, Wisconsin) and Kimberly Jones (Ms. International, from Arizona).

The 2019 Ms. American pageant is happening from Thursday, Aug. 22, through Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Queen Mary, with live streaming available for free at at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24. 

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Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at

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