Arika Burton has always loved numbers. So when she entered the Mrs. DC America Pageant, financial literacy became her platform. “I’ve spent my life, my education and my career, learning how to help people with their finances,” she said. “It’s extremely important, especially in today’s environment, to be financially independent and to understand how to get to that place.”
Apparently the pageant judges agreed, selecting Arika over more than 200 other women from the Washington, DC area to represent the nation’s capital in the Mrs. America Pageant. According to Arika, learning about finance needs to begin at an early age. “It’s essential to start with our youth because they are going to be our future business leaders, whether running a company or running a household, they will have to know finance.”
Arika practices what she preaches. In addition to running a financial management firm with Bradely Burton, her husband of two years, she has signed on as an ambassador for the National Financial Educators Council, working on programs and an advertising campaign. She will be taking on speaking engagements that will include visiting schools in the DC area. “I’d really just like to reach out to as many children as possible and also their parents because they play a huge role in educating their children,” she said.
Even at the elementary school level, children can begin to learn about finance, Arika said. She recommends buying a child a small piggy bank and paying them a small amount for doing little chores around the house. “Teach them how to save up for whatever they want to buy, stickers or something,” she said. Children can soon learn the value of saving and even what it means to be in debt. “Children are very excited about the topic [of finance],” she said. “They don’t typically have a lot of knowledge about it, but they are eager to learn about it.”
Arika (the spelling is Swedish but pronounced Erica) said that she loved math from an early age. She also knew that she wanted to work and to be able to support herself. In high school, she joined the Future Business Leaders of America and geared her classes towards business. She also got a work permit and a job. “I always wanted to be independent and not rely on anyone else,” she said. At the University of Maryland, she majored in finance and international business, studying abroad.
The Mrs. DC America contest is the first one Arika has ever entered. “I’ve watched pageants on TV and been blown away by how glamorous and how beautiful the women are,” she said, “but I didn’t know much about them.” After being referred by a modeling agency, Arika decided to enter the competition. “I really admired how much this pageant places the emphasis on your platform. It’s not just about being a beautiful woman; it’s about helping your community.”
Arika represented the DuPont Circle area and the preliminary events consisted of interviews with the judges. Five finalists were selected and then competed on stage. For the swimsuit segment of the competition, each contestant wears a one piece swimsuit.
Preparation for the pageant, according to Arika, took months. She lined up sponsors, selected the dresses she would wear, and kept to a work out schedule. The day of the competition, there were appointments with hair stylists and makeup artists. “The pageant itself went by very quickly,” she said. “So much time to prepare for just a couple of hours!”
Next up is the Mrs. America Pageant that will be held August 23 through 29 in Tuscon, Arizona. She hasn’t met any of the other 50 women who will compete in the pageant, but has exchanged emails with a number of them. “It’s a great group of women,” she said. “There are many different platforms and everyone is very passionate about them.” The causes chosen, Arika said, reflect different life experiences. “These women are all very influential in their communities.”
Judging for the Mrs. America Pageant will be based on interviews, focusing on each woman’s platform, what she has accomplished. “So [the platform] is definitely a huge portion of the final results of the pageant,” she said.
As Mrs. DC America, Arika said she does a couple of things each day. “I’ve done a lot of appearances for multiple charities in the area, not just with finance,” she said. “I really like to help other women and businesses and charities. Anything I can shine a spotlight on is great.”
She’s also has been busy preparing for the Mrs. America pageant. “I’m going to be at the Mrs. America Pageant for a week or two, so I have to have two or three outfits a day, gowns for the pageant, and my interview suit. There’s a lot involved in preparing [for the event].”
If she were to win the Mrs. America title, and go on to compete in the Mrs. World Pageant, Arika said it would help her to spread her message of financial literacy nationwide, even worldwide. “Obviously my platform is near and dear to my heart, but there are so many different things worth having a discussion about,” she said. “I would look forward to traveling all over America to speak and make appearances. One person can make a big difference.”
For more information, go to the Mrs. DC America Pageant website.