Jean Bryant, the New Pittsburgh Courier’s Women of Excellence Legacy Award winner for 2012, has always striven to make a positive impact. Her success at having done so through multiple endeavors in a variety of fields for more than half a century is a testament to her tenacity, charity and commitment to helping others.
“I have always tried to do meaningful things,” she said. “If something isn’t right, I’m out there trying to do something about it. But it’s God that propels me in these directions”
Born in Roselle, N.J., in 1933, Bryant spent her formative years in the Garden State, raising her own family in Orange, N.J., and then starting her career in journalism with the New Jersey Afro American.
While there, she also worked as a manger for musical acts—including The Platinum Hook, featuring her son on drums, who toured with the Commodores. Through that endeavor she met Hal Jackson, who with his wife had started the Miss Black Teenage contest.
When God propelled her to Pittsburgh in 1972 to join the staff of the Pittsburgh Press, she brought the pageant with her, continuing her efforts to project a positive image of, and for, the Black community.
“Coming from the Black press, it was a shock to see how bereft of positive coverage the Pittsburgh Press was,” she said. “So that became a mission. My real break came with a three-part feature I’d done on Black businesses. It was supposed to be three parts but it was held, and held. Then one day to fill holes created by new advertising, they ran all three at once.”
Eventually, Bryant helped turn the Press’ Page 2 into a model that so impressed the ownership Scripps-Howard, they tried to copy it throughout their entire chain.
When the Press was forced to close after a prolonged strike in the early 1990s, Bryant continued to promote Black success as a feature writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, retiring in 1999. But all the while, she continued to impress positive values on young Black women through her pageants.
“Confidence, Awareness and Pride—that’s our motto,” she said. “As satisfying as my career in journalism was, my greatest satisfaction has come from working with these young people and seeing them blossom into successful adults.”
Though Bryant also ran a Mr. African American program for 10 years, it is Miss Black Teenage that remains closest to her heart.
Some of those pageant’s notable contestants include Judge Dwayne Woodruff’s daughter, Dr. Jillian Woodruff-Guy, a pediatrician practicing in Virginia; Lisa Ruffin, a working actress who has started a Miss Black Teenage Pageant in Los Angeles; and actress Tamara Tunie, who was a contestant in Bryant’s first pageant in Pittsburgh, and who returned as a judge for the 25th anniversary.
“And there are so many others, doctors, engineers, lawyers—one of them, Kezia Taylor, was featured in the Courier’s Fab 40 last year.
“That’s why I am so honored and humbled to be chosen for the Legacy Award, because I’m able to see my legacy every day in these women,” she said. “This is my motto: ‘I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do to any human being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’”
Over her 30-year association with Miss Black Teenage, it generated more then $500,000 in scholarships. And though Bryant stepped down from the pageant in 2008, it continues as the Miss Black Ebony contest.
“It’s wonderful to see ‘Confidence, Awareness and Pride’ continuing,” she said.
That is her legacy.