Bridging the Great Cultural Divide
. . . one conversation at a time
By Elizabeth Keys
Oklahoma State University alumna Triana Browne-Hearrell is the 2017 Miss Oklahoma. She competes for Miss America in September. (PHOTO / LEIGH THOMPSON)
"One of these mornings, you're gonna rise up singing
And you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky ..."
The lyrics from the Gershwin tune “Summertime” are a metaphor for Miss Oklahoma Triana Browne-Hearrell’s next steps. The song struck a chord for the Oklahoma State University alumna, propelling her to capture the overall talent preliminary contest and the state crown in the qualifier for the Miss America competition. With no formal vocal training, Triana says she learned to sing from listening to her mother, Dr. Monica Browne.
“My mom is always singing. Every morning I’d wake up and she would sing around the house, so it just comes naturally for me,” she says.
Triana is working with a vocal coach this summer to prepare for the Miss America pageant in September. Training also comes naturally for her as she trades her athletic shoes in for stilettos for another form of competition.
“I’ve competed in track and field all my life,” she says.
During her senior season on the Cowgirls track team, Triana listened to her coach and tried a new event, entering the heptathlon — seven tests of speed, strength and agility in 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meters dash, long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter run.
“Coach (Diego Flaquer) always told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown,’” Triana says.
Triana is an unknown in the pageant world. Many women work for years competing to earn beauty titles. For her, it was a way to pay some bills.
“The scholarship money awarded is what got my attention,” she says.
Triana won the 2016 Miss OSU title, a preliminary for the Miss Oklahoma competition. Winning the 2017 Miss Oklahoma title has given her the opportunity to spread a message important to her.
Triana Browne-Hearrell was a student-athlete at OSU, placing ninth in the heptathlon at the Big 12 Track and Field Championship in 2016. (PHOTO / CLAY BILLMAN)
I’m talking about bridging the great cultural divide starting with one conversation at a time,” Triana says. “It’s OK to disagree — let’s just talk about it with respect for each person.”
As a multicultural woman, she has often faced personal challenges.
“Sometimes as a kid I was in a very dark place — I was very alone not knowing where I fit in. I was too black for the whites and too white for the black kids,” Triana says. “I don’t want any child to feel like they don’t have a place in this world.”
She hopes to nurture cultural compassion and change the narrative from “they” to “we.”
“It’s really about sitting down and just having a conversation with people who may have different beliefs, ideas or opinions so we can all come together as one.”
Part of embracing her own heritage is learning more about her Chickasaw ancestors.
“Triana is a great ambassador for the Chickasaw Nation because she is committed to learning more about Chickasaw culture and sharing the important role our culture plays in her life,” says Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “She is a dynamic Chickasaw woman whose strong work ethic, caring attitude and perseverance make her a positive role model.”
The Chickasaw Nation is helping Triana design her apparel for the Parade of States during the Miss America contestants’ grand entrance. Her father, Joel Hearrell of Houston, says his grandmother, Sadie Hearrell, and parents, Charles and Judith Hearrell of Bennington, Oklahoma, are close to tribal events. Joel met Triana’s mom when they both were on the OSU track team. Monica was a sprinter, and he was a long distance runner.
“It was great living in Stillwater,” Joel Hearrell says. “The town has really grown since I was a student.”
He says it was fun to share his love for OSU with his daughter.
He attended his first beauty pageant when Triana won Miss Oklahoma.
Dr. Monica Browne and Joel Hearrell congratulate their daughter Triana Browne Harrell at the Miss Oklahoma competition in Tulsa. All three are OSU alumni. (PHOTO / LEIGH THOMPSON)
“I didn’t know how much work went into it. We were told you are more likely to get drafted into the NFL than to win Miss Oklahoma,” he says. “Those girls work so hard.”
Triana’s mother agrees.
“Pageants are not like track,” Monica says. “In track, you pretty much know who is the winner and, if you are unsure, you have a computer that will provide you pictures and times as evidence of who won a race. In pageants, you never know how the judges are scoring them or how well a contestant has done in their private interview. People have no idea how hard many of these young women are working … but champions make a decision to keep going and progressing.”
Serving as Miss Oklahoma has Triana in a whirlwind. As she prepares for the Miss America competition, she is continuing her work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where she teaches Chickasaw heritage. She shares the story of the Oklahoma rose rock and invites everyone to say “chokma” when they greet others.
Although her life as Miss Oklahoma is very different from her days as a collegiate student-athlete, Triana doesn’t forget her lifelong focus on sports and she continues to support healthy lifestyles, partnering in activities with the American Heart Association.
Triana Browne-Hearrell captured the 2016 Miss OSU crown when she was a senior undergraduate. (PHOTO / HUNTER HUTCHENS)
It’s a group she feels especially connected to since she struggled with a rare heart condition at birth. After 17 days in a neonatal intensive care unit, she recovered, which developed her family’s belief, “I’m here to do things for a reason.”
She says she loves challenging herself. Everyday she meets an array of new individuals so she is striving to positively influence their lives during her time as Miss Oklahoma. Triana is accustomed to a fast-paced schedule.
The Tulsa native was named to the Academic All-Big 12 team and the Dean’s Honor Roll on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences with a minor in sociology at OSU.
“Triana always devoted a lot of time to her schoolwork,” says Emily Middlebrook of the OSU Academic Center for Student-Athletes. “With a full class load, student-athletes attend many hours of meetings, practices, travel and competition. Triana handled all that with grace. She put in hours and always had a smile on her face. I knew she had the qualities that the judges would be looking for to represent Oklahoma.”
Coming to OSU to study was an easy decision for Triana. She attended the Child Development Lab on campus as a young child while her mother was an OSU student.
“She has been fortunate to have so many great people in her life,” her mom says. “Fortunately, she had Coach Diego and teammates who supported her during college. It helps when you have tenacious people around you to encourage you to keep going.
Tune in for the live broadcast of Miss America on ABC at 8 p.m. CST September 10. (PHOTO / KEVIN CAMP)
Even when a doctor kept telling her to let go of track because she was suffering so many injuries, she never gave up. Instead, she became a heptathlete and placed ninth in the Big 12 track and field championships after only three months of training. That’s what champions do — they push through the fear, the tears, the injuries and the disappointments because they have high expectations for themselves.
“I know Triana appreciates people who supported her along the way. She is the first woman with African descent to win Miss OSU. We have been blessed to be part of the journey.”
Monica praises all the Miss Oklahoma sponsors, too.
“You are talking about an organization that has helped a lot of young women become top finalists and runners-ups, with six women from Oklahoma winning the Miss America crown,” Monica says.
Triana’s preliminary goal is to make the Miss America finals to sing on national television. And, if she goes farther, she will take it one event at a time – just like the heptathlon. No matter what the outcome, dad Joel says, “She’ll always be Miss America to me.”
For the latest news, follow Miss America on social and join the conversation by using the official hashtag for the show, #MissAmerica.
You can help Miss Oklahoma Triana Browne-Hearrell advance to the Top 15 at The 2018 Miss America Competition airing live on ABC from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall at 9-11 p.m. ET Sunday, September 10, 2017. The public can vote at missamerica.org/vote and facebook.com/missamerica and are permitted one vote per day, per user. Voting will close Tuesday, September 5th at 9 p.m. ET, and the chosen contestant will be announced during The 2018 Miss America Competition live broadcast with the Top 15.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/join or call 405-744-5368.
Uploaded on August 22, 2017
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