Steady is the head that wears the crown: Meet Leah Roddenberry, the longest-reigning Miss Tampa, future lawyer, author and advocate. When she was crowned in March 2020, Roddenberry looked forward to the year of service that comes with the title. Then the pandemic hit. After more than a year, packed with creative Zoom outreach sessions and authoring Leah Goes to Washington, she’s poised to compete for Miss Florida – and, if all goes well, Miss America.
TBBW caught up with Miss Roddenberry a few weeks before the Miss Florida competition to discuss pageant dreams, overcoming childhood obstacles and her future plans to enter the field of law.
Thanks to COVID, you are the longest-reigning Miss Tampa in history. How has this affected your reign?
It took a lot of creativity and self-motivation to do outreach when everything shut down. Typically, Miss Tampa is out and about serving the community, so I learned how to do that virtually, and I stayed very busy. One of the first things I did was create virtual session Tuesdays With Miss Tampa. I interviewed leaders of both the Miss America organization and Tampa leaders (including Mayor Jane Castor).
I zoomed into girls’ organizations and gave speeches, and I authored and published Leah Goes to Washington to teach children about civics. I definitely did not sit back during COVID. I wanted to make the most of the time.
Explain your pageant history.
Miss America night was like a holiday in my house. I got involved in pageants when I was six, and each year I would sit in the audience amazed at what these women were doing in the community. I became Miss Florida Outstanding Teen twice, in 2013 and 2015, and spent those years traveling the state of Florida. Come 2016, I headed off to college. In 2019 I was named Miss University of Florida.
How are you preparing for Miss Florida?
It’s a lot of work for sure. It’s a full year of engaging with people and organizations – it prepares you for your future and your life. You have to be ready for a 10-minute personal interview with judges who can ask you anything. I’m a dancer, so every day I go to the studio to perfect my routine. There’s also a social impact pitch. How are you going to make an impact in the community? And then the red carpet portion with evening gown wear. It’s so much fun, and I love every part of it.
Tell us about your social impact initiative Be a LeadHer: Igniting the Spark Within.
It works to engage, empower, and equip young girls to be leaders. Leadership has no age requirement and my book goes along with that. Service was a value that was instilled in my siblings and I at a young age. We served meals at Salvation Army growing up and gave back to the community. My book encourages girls to learn about public service and the importance of giving back.
I also founded the first Florida chapter of Ignite National at the University of Florida, a nonpartisan organization that encourages women to be politically active. I tell women of all ages: Pursue your dreams unapologetically.
Why publish a children’s book?
I figured the pandemic was a perfect time to create a resource for kids. It encourages all elementary-aged children to get involved in their community. At the end, they’re encouraged to take a little cardboard cutout of the main character into the community. You can visit www.Leahgoestowashington.com to find more information about the book itself. It started out as a free, downloadable resource and now can be purchased at Amazon.com.
Share your top tips for turning dreams into goals.
- You must have an unwavering belief in yourself and your potential. Obstacles will happen, so you have to believe you are more than enough.
- Find a close support system of people you can confide in through the good and the bad.
- Get involved; leadership has no age requirement.
Why is your social impact project so important to you?
Growing up, I was shy. I remember being terrified to raise my hand in class. No young girl ever should feel isolated or that she doesn’t measure up. Hopefully, they learn confidence and that they can advocate for themselves and their community. Speak up girls. Pursue your dreams.
What is your talent?
It’s a high-energy jazz dance to Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. It’s relevant to my life; I started dancing at the age of three. When I entered high school I was diagnosed with scoliosis and tried everything to stop it from progressing. I had to have spinal fusion surgery at the age of 17. I was really scared I wouldn’t be able to dance again. It was a rough time but I worked extremely hard to be able to audition for the University of Florida’s dance team. I had the best time performing for the Gators – and now, the promise of performing at Miss Florida gives me so much happiness.
What’s next for you in the pageant world and beyond?
Law school. I’m open-minded at looking at what type of law to practice. I’m looking at the business side – representing businesses. I would love that to align with female-run businesses. I’m excited to further my education and, hopefully, that will be paid for by the Miss America organization. Throughout all my years competing, I’ve earned $20,000 in scholarships, so that has definitely helped.
*Bonus question from ‘sister queen’ Bailey Sheridan, St. Petersburg resident and Miss Florida Elementary America 6th Grade
What is your favorite activity other than dance and pageantry?
I love any time I can spend with my family. I have a large family and it’s hard for all of us to come together at the same time. I think my favorite memories involve traveling with them. In the past, we had a conversion van and piled in and went on road trips. I love baking with my sisters and enjoying spending time with them. That’s really what brings me happiness.
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