I received this message from Keisha one Friday summer evening: “Hi Aunt Vern! You are not going to believe this! I just received a call from Beyonce’s publicist and she is giving PEARL Girls free tickets to the Beyonce concert on Tuesday! OMG! Her publicist says that Beyonce loves our mission! Do you want to go?”

So who is Keisha and the PEARL Girls? Well, Keisha Howard was born and reared in Waco and Hewitt. After graduating from the University of North Texas, she started up PEARL Girls Inc., a unique life-skills development and confidence-building organization with several programs serving girls ages 4 to 17. It plays upon a critical Carnegie Foundation and Harvard University Stanford Research Institute study that found 85 percent of our career success depends on our social skills.

In some communities, such skills are not developed. That can discourage young girls from trying to better their lot of life. It’s a problem that many of us recognize right here in Waco.

Since age 10, Keisha has been involved in modeling and dancing. By the time Keisha was a teen, she was dividing time between studying, working, volunteering with younger girls at her church and participating in extracurricular activities. While attending Midway High School, she was a member of the Goal Tenders Dance Team during her sophomore year and was school mascot her junior year.

She spent a lot of time modeling in and around Waco — including the Dallas area — and won many pageants. She was on the fashion board at Richland Mall for several years. Some of you might well remember seeing her in print ads in publications like the Tribune-Herald and Waco Today. She was a familiar face even on the side of local buses.

Keisha had to be extremely disciplined to keep up with this busy schedule. Her parents, Kevin and Patricia Thomas and the late Dyrell Bradley, and the entire family have always been proud of how hard Keisha works while maintaining a serious focus on and commitment to any task she undertakes. Did I mention that Keisha started working after school at the age of 15? Her tenacity at handling challenges became one of her greatest strengths, and it — along with her loving, caring and giving spirit — has laid the foundation for Keisha’s passion for helping others.

So it came as no surprise when she visited one day shortly after college graduation and shared her dream of starting PEARL Girls. She opened up about her years of shyness and struggles early on with self-esteem and body-image issues. She said she had really wanted to compete in pageants as a child but didn’t due to her lack of confidence.

Keisha was lucky. As she began to model and participate in local pageants, she became more comfortable and her confidence blossomed. She began to understand the essence of inner beauty. This has led to the uniqueness of PEARL Girls Pageants. Rather than being showy competitions with misplaced priorities, Keisha says the pageants really are about inner beauty. These offer young girls a platform to develop public speaking skills and poise, which can make the difference between success and failure in our highly competitive business world.

Almost nine years after beginning PEARL Girls in 2007, Keisha, 32, is working and multitasking as much as ever. She has been a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Learning Center; received her master’s degree in counseling; counseled young girls with depression and eating disorders at Dallas-based Renfrew Center; and served as a counselor at Plano High School. This fall, she transitions to Armstrong Middle School in Plano.

Confident PEARLS

What remains constant is Keisha’s commitment to the PEARL Girls organization. That means pursuing her dream of helping young girls develop into confident PEARLs — Poised, Elegant and Responsible Leaders.

Keisha still models occasionally, but the bulk of her time is dedicated to all things PEARL Girls. She has even written a book, “The Inner Beauty Secret,” for children pre-kindergarten through third grade, which will be released by September. PEARL Girls now has a nonprofit component and offers inner beauty coaching along with other exciting additions, highlighted at PEARL Girls’ new website, www.coachkeisha.com. The Pearl Girls will bring their brand to Waco in February, when Keisha plans to hold a two-day Inner Beauty Pageant.

So when word went out that Beyonce’s own charitable organization was giving the PEARL Girls tickets to the July 22 Beyonce and Jay-Z “On the Run” concert in Dallas, it came at a time when these PEARL Girls needed a break. The past few months have been extremely busy with fundraising activities, planning for and hosting two pageants and training girls on etiquette and empowerment. But the gesture was recognition from a fellow native Texan whose own confidence was similarly bolstered as a youth through singing and dancing competitions. Hopefully, this cycle of success and empowerment for women will continue, With proponents such as Beyonce and Keisha, how could it not?

To learn more about PEARL Girls, visit its website: www.Pearl-Girls.org. Bettie V. Beard is a freelance writer with degrees and a background in social work and gerontology.