PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- There were 24 women between the ages of 18 and 27 who competed in the Miss Maine pageant over the weekend. One contestant set a record before the winner was ever announced.
Hamdia Ahmed wore a full length sequin dress and head scarf during the evening gown category. The 19-year-old is the first ever Muslim Somali woman to compete for the crown and sash at the Miss Maine pageant. She decided to compete to send a message to little girls just like her.
"It's ok to come from a different country, be Muslim, be Somalian, be an immigrant, be black and you can still compete in pageants," said Ahmed. "You can still chase after your dreams."
Ahmed was 7-years-old when she moved from a Somali refugee camp in Kenya to the United States. In twelve years she's found her place as an advocate for the Somalian community in Maine, speaking at public rallies. She's now in her junior year at the University of Southern Maine studying political science. She's never doubted her ability to stand up for what she believes in, but the dream of becoming a pageant queen came with hesitance. Pageant organizers allowed Ahmed to wear a head scarf as well as a burkini in the swim wear competition.
"People have a stereotypical idea of what a pageant contestant looks like and is like," said Miss Maine stage manager Lori Dalessio. "We just want to make sure everyone knows that this is a chance to come in, to get to know each other, to get on stage, break out of your comfort zone and we want all kind of contestants."
After the judges scores were tabulated and interview questions answered, it wasn't Ahmed's name announced as the 2018 Miss Maine, but she doesn't have a single regret. She was able to compete in a head scarf, in a full length gown and in a burkini in hopes that other Muslim Somali women will follow.
"I feel so happy and so proud of myself," said Ahmed. "I'm just so happy that I had the experience."