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As early as the 1930s, segregation limited St. Petersburg's black residents to specific areas, almost entirely south of Central Avenue. Integration opened the city up, diverse communities emerged, yet stereotypes remain. To the south, St. Petersburg includes places like Coquina Key, Pinellas Point and historic Midtown - where life's daily dramas unfold, some as struggles, some as triumphs. In the coming months, Neighborhood Times will feature slice-of-life stories that often go untold.

The young ladies don't have much time, only 15 minutes before they're supposed to take the stage.

Inside their dressing rooms at the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, it's a steady rush to finish makeup and hair before putting on their My Black Is Beautiful pageant outfits.

A'Moya Lemon, 13, sits quietly in the corner waiting her turn while makeup artist and hairstylist April Washington airbrushes the last touches on 8-year-old Niyah West's face. Niyah sneaks a peek in the mirror. "I look pretty," she says, smiling. "If you do say so yourself," jokes Niyah's mother, Monique West, from the back of the room.

Danielle Russell, 12, puts on eye shadow. She wants to be an actor. She has been doing pageants since she was 6. Her first was Little Miss Sunburst.

Twelve girls 6 to 18 will take the stage on this Sunday afternoon in February. They will dance, sing, re-enact historic moments - basically showing off their abilities before the judges. They want everyone to know that young African-American women can be smart and poised.

"I want to be a lawyer," A'Moya says. She pauses. No, that's not right. "I don't want to be a lawyer. I am going to be a lawyer."

In a community overshadowed by bad news, sometimes people don't pay attention to this.

So A'Moya, the reserved girl sitting in the corner waiting her turn, will stand under the bright stage lights and point that out. And she will ask these questions during the talent segment with her spoken-word poem: When you look at me, what do you see? Do you see someone limited, or someone free? Or do you see what I see, a black girl determined to reach her destiny?