Kimberly Clarice Aiken
In September of 1993, before a wildly cheering audience in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she was crowned Miss America. Just a few months later, she was sleeping in a cardboard box on a street in Iowa. A disastrous slide into poverty and obscurity’ Not for 19-year-old Kimberly Clarice Aiken, who has used her reign as Miss America 1994 to publicize the plight of the millions of homeless people in the United States. Aiken is committed to help solve the growing problem of homelessness. She is the founder and president of HERO (Homeless Education and Resource Organization), which offers assistance to agencies that provide aid to the homeless. She has given hundreds of speeches and visited Washington, DC to present her platform on the issue to national lawmakers. Experts on this important social issue have been impressed by her knowledge of and concern for America’s homeless. Aiken promotes a social agenda which includes better health care, housing and employment facilities. “Apart from the millions of men, women and children who live in poverty, there are countless others who are just one step away from being homeless,” she said. “My main goal is to get homeless people off the street and get people who may be homeless to not be in that situation…It can happen to you; it could happen to our family.” Her familiarity with the problem of homelessness was obvious at a very young age. Aiken’s parents have a home-care nursing company and an uncle runs a food distribution center. At 14, she read to children who stayed in shelters. Her efforts to get high school students to volunteer to help in homeless programs has resulted in thousands of donations to charitable organizations. “Young people are the future of the country and they need to know that they can make a difference,” said Aiken. Her beauty, poise, talent and intellectual ability are just a few of the reasons why Kimberly Aiken charmed the nation as Miss America 1994. She became the fifth African-American to hold the title and the first from South Carolina. The older of two daughters born to Charles and Valerie Aiken of Columbia, Kimberly proved to be a fighter when, at the age of 11, she underwent brain surgery, making a quick recovery from the operation. Aiken is a 1992 graduate of Columbia High School, where she developed her leadership skills by holding various positions in student government. She won many titles in pageants and was particularly active in the school’s chorus and band. She traveled extensively with the United States National Chorus, in which she was featured as a soloist. She received training in voice, drama, modeling and dance which prepared her for the coveted crown which she has worn with dignity. Aiken is a college sophomore and is majoring in accounting. Aiken has received countless awards and honors including the Order of the Palmetto, which is the highest honor bestowed upon individuals in South Carolina. She has made several television appearances and is included in a official commemorative Miss America porcelain doll collection. Speaking to thousands of students, Aiken repeatedly preaches her positive message: “You can be anything you want to be. Stay drug free and listen to your parents and teachers and you will live happy lives.” All of the young people who have met her can see the results and rewards of hard work, motivation and dedication.