At the intersection of community engagement, pageantry, and social impact, there’s Dr. Ingrid Bynum.
There’s plenty of hype surrounding the new Barbie movie, which highlights that girls can do anything. Want to go into orbit? There’s astronaut Barbie. Wish to specialize in the medical field? Doctor Barbie for the win. Does staying home appeal to you? Hello, Barbie’s Malibu House.
Even with all of her assets and ambitions, Barbie exists solely in the world of make-believe. Or does she? In Alexandria, there’s a real-life pageant winner equally devoted to making a positive impact on the lives of young people—and her name is Dr. Ingrid Bynum.
During the school year, you’ll find Bynum in the principal’s office. She’s the head administrator at Patrick Henry K-8 School, part of the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) division. Don’t expect to only find her behind her desk, though—over the years, Bynum’s taken an active role in promoting literacy in both her school and in her community.
“I see that after the pandemic, our children just are not okay right now,” Bynum said. “When it comes to the achievement gap, it’s pretty large.”
Striving to make a positive impact, Bynum worked with Reading Is Fundamental of Northern Virginia. The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization provides free books to underserved children in NoVA.
Serving in her community sparked a broader idea: Bynum wanted to promote literacy statewide. That’s when she looked into pageantry.
Becoming Mrs. Virginia America
It’d been about 30 years since Bynum entered a pageant. Prior, she participated in her first-and-only at age 23.
In June, the 54-year-old career woman found herself back on the stage, competing against other talented ladies from across the commonwealth. They all vied for the same thing: One coveted spot at the national Mrs. America pageant.
“Mrs. America stands for women who can pretty much do it all. We are mothers, we are wives, we are career women, but we also contribute to the community, too, in a pretty large way,” Bynum said. “I thought, ‘This might be the biggest platform that I can have at this time’.”
As the pageant got underway, Bynum met competitors whom she called “really talented,” “phenomenal,” and “beautiful inside and out.” While clearly passionate about her platform, Bynum said she “was really expecting someone else to win.”
Then the announcer called her name.
“I literally fell to the floor because I was in such shock. Then I started to cry because a lot of hard work went into this—months and months and months of hard work,” Bynum said. “And so it just kind of all came to, ‘Okay, all the hard work I did, this was worth it.’”
With her new title, Bynum plans to:
- Work with sponsors and partner with businesses to purchase books for children
- Work with communities across Virginia to hold book donations and distribute the books to underserved children
- Meet with families to talk about literacy and the importance of reading from early childhood to middle school
“In addition to that, I want to get out and talk to girls about being able to just be ‘super women,’ and be able to reach their goals, be able to be the best that they can be, and also how to make a great impact on the community,” Bynum said.
Bringing the Title Home
School starts at ACPS on Aug. 21, and Bynum’s already thinking of ways to share the news of her win with her students.
“I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’m going to wear the sash and the crown to school because I really want the work that I do with school to be all about them and not about me—but I may wear it one day,” Bynum said. “We do dress-up days on Fridays. So we may have a ‘King and Queen Day,’ or something like that, and everyone dresses up—and then I can wear it to school. But I can imagine that they’re going to be super excited.”
The principal recently did a trial-run-of-sorts at the recreation center, where several students enjoyed summer activities.
“[The students] saw me, and they just started screaming. So I’m really excited about getting back to them,” Bynum said. “I have a really good relationship with them, where I am always looking and seeking to inspire them to be the best that they can be and to work hard. Especially to work hard at academics and work hard at being kind. I think that the sash and the title and the crown will just be able to magnify my voice a little bit larger, and really bring home that message that I’m trying to send to them, that they need to be awesome.”
Competing in Mrs. America
Later this month, Bynum will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, to compete in the national Mrs. America pageant. The streamed event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 26.
In the meantime, voting is now open on the Mrs. America website, where one lucky winner will advance straight to the competition’s Top 15.
If Bynum wins the national competition, she hopes to expand her passion for literacy across the country by working with policymakers. Her goal is to help more children access books for pleasure reading, and have those books in their hands instead of on a screen.
“People tend to see the pageant winners and the queens as beauty queens, and we are more than just that. We work very hard. We’re just like everyone else. We’re mothers, we’re wives, we are career women,” Bynum said. “But we really are out—especially in the Mrs. America competition—we’re out really looking to seek and make lasting and sustainable change within the community. That’s what the Mrs. America pageant’s all about, and I am delighted to be able to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia in doing just that.”