As a senior at Temple University in 2012, Brittany Lewis entered a local pageant on a dare and nearly wound up in the Miss America Pageant as Miss Pennsylvania.

Two years later, as a 23-year-old having just earned a master's degree in education from Wilmington University, the Brigantine product and 2008 Holy Spirit High School graduate punched her ticket to Atlantic City by winning the title of Miss Delaware.

On Saturday night, Aug. 26, Lewis won the crown in the 49th annual Miss Black America Pageant held at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, where the contest is rooted.

“The first pageant she ever entered was in her last year at Temple, and her sorority sisters dared her to compete in the Miss Reading pageant in Pennsylvania,” said her father, Willie Lewis, who is a past president of the Professional Chefs Association of South Jersey. “There was a chance for some scholarship money, but she wasn't doing it for that. She asked me and my wife (Brenda) if she should do it and we said, 'Why not? Go ahead.'”

Brittany Lewis was a fourth-year member of Temple's competitive dance team at the time. She had studied ballet under Phyllis Papa, the founder and director of the Atlantic City Ballet, and taught youth dance at a school in Wilmington. That and her passion to raise awareness against domestic violence — her platform in all the pageants she has participated in since — won her the Miss Reading crown.

“That put her into the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant in Pittsburgh, against girls who in many cases had been doing this for years,” Willie Lewis said.

In the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, all of the contestants were winners who had advanced from other qualifying pageants.

“She was nervous but we told her, 'Look honey, just have fun and do what you do best, that's all you can do. Look where you're at already.'”

Brittany Lewis finished the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant as first runner-up.

In 2014, working as a teacher at Prestige Academy Charter School, she won the title of Miss Wilmington en route to taking top honors in the Miss Delaware Pageant to represent her adopted state in the 2015 Miss America Pageant. Domestic Violence Awareness became her passion when, in 2010, her 27-year-old sister, Gina Clarke-Lewis, was gunned down at her apartment door in a case that remains unsolved. Family and friends suspect that Gina’s ex-boyfriend was involved, as she had filed a restraining order against him, and he is reported to have sent her 100 text messages the day she died.

Her win in the Miss Black America Pageant was another case of Brittany Lewis entering a competition largely on a whim. 

“Three weeks ago she wasn't even thinking about entering, and then she kind of decided to do it at the last minute,” her father said. “They counted down the third runner-up, second-runner up, and the expression on her face when she was announced as the winner was like 'Wow!' We were all so delighted and are very proud of her."

Stay informed! Sign up to receive top headlines from Atlantic County delivered to your inbox.