By William Smith
Eleven-year-old Ony'Khah Johnson was born to compete in scholarship pageants.
The former Lil’ Miss Iowa was recently crowned as Miss Iowa Preteen at the Iowa and Nebraska National Teenage Scholarship Pageant in Omaha, Neb. That’s a different pageant than the Miss Iowa Scholarship program, where Johnson previously reigned as Lil’ Miss Iowa. She plans on competing in that pageant again as well – likely more than once.
“My goal is to become Miss Iowa,” she said. “I quickly fell in love with this pageant, and I met a lot of nice girls and made a lot of new friends.”
Johnson will compete in the nationals next March in Nashville, Tenn., and will be bringing a whole wardrobe’s worth of clothing with her. She said she wore as many as five or six dresses during this most recent pageant. It’s a requirement of being a queen. For Johnson, it was also an indulgence.
“It’s really fun to have new dresses to try on and see how they feel on my body,” she said. “I love being on stage, especially in my dresses because I can express myself. I love being super-confident in all of my dresses that I wear.”
Johnson sang the Adele song “Easy On Me” for the talent portion of the competition, impressing the judges. But they were even more impressed with her community service and her platform called “Fostering Love,” which promotes adoption.
Johnson was adopted by her stepfather in 2020, and it’s made a huge impact on how she sees the world.
“A couple of years back, my aunt and uncle fostered a little girl, and I loved seeing the way they helped her. I want to help too,” Johnson said. “Every kid deserves the unconditional love that I feel.”
Johnson, who is a regular volunteer at The Cupboard food pantry inside City Hope, also won the community service award – something she has been passionate about since the age of 6. That’s when she asked for donations for the animal shelter instead of presents for her birthday party.
Johnson’s volunteering stretches well beyond food pantry work. She bought 45 duffle bags from the foster care organization Together We Rise, decorating the bags and filling them with personal items such as toothbrushes and teddy bears. Those bags were all given to foster children.
Johnson also raised over $2,000 with two fundraisers, using the money to buy needed items for the Fostering Hope organization in Scott County.
“I’m really glad I can call Burlington my home. I love this town,” she said.
Johnson is more than a pageant competitor. She’s a hard worker with big plans in life and most of those plans revolve around helping others. She also plans on attending Southeastern Community College with her best friends after high school, then moving on to the University of Iowa.
Once school is done, Johnson will set her sights on becoming a pediatric oncologist and surgeon.
“I would like to move to Canada, settle down for a few years, get famous, and then come back,” she said. For now, though, Johnson is a Burlington girl. She’s in her element and loving life under a crown.
“I just love to be able to help people around my community,” she said.