Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Push for road safety drives pageant dreams
PURSUITS: PLATFORM IS PERSONAL FOR STAFFORD PLANNER
BY LIANA BAYNE
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Amy Ansong never expected her passion for road safety to lead to a modeling contract or a state pageant title.
But that’s exactly what’s happened to the Stafford County urban planner, who competes this week for the title of Miss Plus America Elite after earning the Virginia crown in March.
Ansong, whose parents are from Ghana, got into modeling about two years ago.
She thought the Miss Plus America pageant would provide a great platform to emphasize her interest in road safety.
Though she’s traveled to New York for casting calls at Glamour, Vogue and O magazines, few people know that she’s a model in the running for a national pageant title.
“I’m really low-key,” said Ansong. “But I guess they will know now, right?”
The pageant for women and teens size 14 and above starts Tuesday in Memphis, Tenn., and ends Saturday with the crowning of a winner. She’s competing in the Ms. division for single women who are 30 and older.
Ansong’s platform, “Increasing Road Safety, Decreasing Road Fatalities,” is a very personal one for her.
Her grandmother died in a car accident in Ghana, where overloaded buses, poor road maintenance, a high pedestrian population and less stringent safety standards contribute to a dangerous environment for travelers.
Ansong developed a professional passion for the issue in graduate school.
Born in Arlington and raised in Northern Virginia, Ansong attended the University of Virginia, where she majored in economics and earned a minor in urban planning.
After interning for a year in the Prince William County planning office, Ansong headed to Clemson University for a master’s in urban planning.
While there, she attended a conference in 2004 that related urban planning issues, like road design and sidewalk and playground availability, to public health problems like car-crash fatalities and childhood obesity. Making that connection made her want to campaign for better roads and safer driving, she said.
For the last eight years, she’s worked for the Stafford County Planning Department, managing projects along the county’s busy thoroughfares.
“Stafford is really booming,” Ansong said.
That means more cars on the roads, many of them driven by young people. Meanwhile, car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
To combat that statistic, Ansong recently joined the Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety, or YOVASO, club at Brooke Point High School as a community member. The club sponsors events to try to get teens to buckle up, slow down and drive sober.
Ansong also travels frequently to Ghana, where she tries to promote the same safety awareness among that country’s youth. She’s even guest-taught urban planning classes at universities there.
She said many road accidents there are caused when vehicles hit large potholes in the roads and tip over.
One of Ghana’s main industries is farming, with cocoa being a large export.
“It’s a great country, but they need a greater investment in infrastructure,” Ansong said. “If young people are dying in road accidents, who’s going to work and harvest the cocoa?”
PURSUING HER PASSIONS
Ansong hopes to spread the word about road safety at the Miss Plus America pageant, where contestants have championed everything from adoption to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
Ansong is sponsored by several African clothing designers as well as the Afrikan Post, an African newspaper she writes freelance music articles for, and the Children of the Future Foundation, a Ghanaian nonprofit she volunteers for that helps the country’s orphans.
She’s even getting help from Fred and Friends, a company that sells fun household products—including a French toast stamp of the Eiffel Tower designed by Ansong.
In her “free time,” Ansong enjoys toy collecting and deejaying African music. She also volunteers with local homeless services.
She has appeared on Vogue’s website and in Black Enterprise magazine, and she hopes one day to earn a contract with a clothing company like Lane Bryant or with a cosmetic line.
And she’s pursuing a doctorate at George Mason University in international education. She wants to use those skills to help educate others about road safety.
“Needless to say,” Ansong said, “I’m not bored.”
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444