Marjorie Vincent-Tripp says she will never forget driving through the “tree-lined” streets of Oak Park for the first time when she was just 10 years old.
Some of her most prominent memories of OPRF High School involve being part of the drill team, coached by Lana Tencate at the time. Vincent-Tripp found a love for performing live at competitions and several of the school’s sporting events.
“We put in a lot of hours practicing, perfecting routines,” she recalled. “Mrs. Tencate was tough, but she instilled discipline and teamwork in us.” Vincent-Tripp’s strong foundation from her high school experiences soon led her to become involved in pageantry.
“I was an undergraduate at DePaul University and saw a flyer on a bulletin board for the Miss Chicago Pageant and decided to give it a try. I had watched the Miss America Pageant for many years on television and thought it would be a great opportunity to earn some scholarship money.”
What started as a way to get extra scholarship funding soon turned into something so much greater. Vincent-Tripp would later be crowned as the fourth African-American woman to win Miss America in 1991. “As the first woman of Haitian descent to become Miss America,” she notes, “my win was also significant and a source of pride for the Haitian community.”
She succeeded Debbie Turner, another prominent woman who worked to diversify pageantry as well.
“It was an honor to succeed in her footsteps,” she said. “You have to consider the context to understand why it was such a big deal for many people, particularly the African American community. The competition existed since 1921 and for a long time (I believe until 1950) you had to be white to compete. So to have four African-American Miss Americas between 1984 and 1991, two back-to-back, was quite an accomplishment. It broke barriers and spoke volumes in defining who Miss America could be.” Vincent-Tripp was also the only African-American woman to compete in September of 1990, so it was a tremendous win.
After her career in pageantry ended, Vincent-Tripp earned her law degree while also working as a broadcast journalist for many years.
“Looking back,” she said, “it’s not a surprise that I ended up in the legal field because I was always the advocate for my siblings when I didn’t feel they were being treated fairly. Journalism came about as a result of my work as Miss America. I enjoyed my time as a broadcast journalist and it was extremely rewarding, but I missed the study and practice of law.”
Vincent-Tripp now resides in Daytona Beach, Florida, working as an assistant attorney general, fulfilling her dreams in law, and she is grateful for all of the support from her son, Cameron, and her husband, Wesley.
Discussing the current pandemic, she expressed the importance of maintaining a routine.
“Someone once said this to me in the past and it still resonates with me today. Structure is your friend. Even though I’m working from home right now, I approach my day like any other workday. Stick to a schedule. Set goals that you want to accomplish each day. Just because your surroundings are different doesn’t mean that you should treat your weekday any differently.” In other words, never put your dreams on hold.
While we regularly celebrate Oak Park celebrities like Hemingway and Wright, we should also remember the important strides of Marjorie Vincent-Tripp. She is a living example of doing what hasn’t been done before. We are lucky to have a legend like her call Oak Park home.
Margaret Korinek is a graduating senior at OPRF High School.