By Emily Williams
Just as her platform reads, there is “More Than Meets the Eye” when it comes to 2019 Miss Tennessee Valley Outstanding Teen Marissa Luna.
A bit of a newcomer to the pageant world, 14-year old Mountain Brook resident Luna and her mother, Misty Chitwood, had no idea that she would be earning a crown when she took the stage at the Miss Tennessee Valley Outstanding Teen pageant.
She left the event with her title, along with best talent, best on-stage interview and best evening wear. Luna updated a vintage gown her mother wore when she participated in preliminaries for Miss Alabama.
When it came time to form a campaign and raise money for her next pageant, Miss Alabama Outstanding Teen in March 2019, Luna teamed up with local artist Marcus Fetch to design a T-shirt featuring her campaign message, “More Than Meets the Eye.”
Luna’s platform focuses on advocating for children with hidden disabilities, those disorders that cannot be seen, for example learning and hearing disabilities.
When choosing a design, Luna said, she knew she wanted to draw from a family tradition.
The back of the shirt includes the words “Psalms 91,” which describes God sending angels to protect his children underneath their wings.
“That is something that her great grandfather started. We never say goodbye in our family and instead we say Psalms 91,” Chitwood said. “I’ll say, ‘Have a great day,’ before I leave and (Marissa) will say, ‘Psalms 91.’ And we feel like we’re sending angels to watch over you.”
Inspired by the scripture, Luna wanted to have angel wings on the shirt like the ones she has seen in the mural at Melt, in Avondale.
“We knew that Marcus Fetch (who painted the mural) was a local artist,” Chitwood said. “She called him up and asked him to partner up with her.”
Fetch worked with Luna and designed pink, blue and white wings on the purple shirt – Luna’s favorite color.
“He did it all for free because all of the money is going to Children’s Miracle Network,” Chitwood said. “We found sponsors to sponsor the T-shirt, so literally all of that $20 you’re spending on the T-shirt goes directly to Children’s Miracle Network hospitals,” said Chitwood.
The Miss America system as a whole supports Children’s Miracle Network, which supports children’s hospitals around the country, including Children’s of Alabama.
Luna said she is hoping that the shirts will start a movement, that people will buy the shirts and go to the mural to take photos and will use her hashtag, #MoreThanMeetsTheEye, when posting their images on social media.
More Than Meets the Eye
With her T-shirts and her platform, Luna hopes to inspire people with hidden disabilities to find ways to build up their self-esteem.
“The reason I chose this was because it is something that I struggled with when I was younger,” Luna said. “In the second grade, I was diagnosed with ADD. I would always zone off in class and it was hard for me to (conceptualize) things – it was hard for me to take it in.”
Luna added that one out of every 10 students in a classroom has a learning disability and, though hers resolved when she was in about the fourth grade, the struggles stuck with her.
One of the main issues was the comments she received from other classmates when she was being pulled out of her regular classroom during the day to work with special instructors in individualized education classes.
“The learning disability takes down your confidence, but if you find something to invest in, it builds it back up,” Luna said.
For Luna, developing her love of singing and theater helped restore her confidence and is one of the reasons she decided to try her hand at pageantry.
“I did not want her to do pageants,” Chitwood said. “She came to me and said she wanted to do it because of the talent.”
After deciding to compete, Luna chose to participate in the Tennessee Valley pageant because music-Mecca Muscle Shoals is in the region.
When she has a speaking engagement at a school, Luna said, she likes to tell kids that, when they walk in a room, instead of walk- ing straight to their friends, they should “Go and talk to that person in the room who needs support, needs a smile or needs a hug.
“If we all did that – did the thing that is sometimes not very cool to do – then there would be no bullying,” she said.
Outside of the speaking engagements and volunteer work at Mitchell’s Place that she participates in through her title, Luna spends much of her time in the theater and working on what she hopes will be a singing career.
She is currently in rehearsals for Virginia Samford Theatre’s production of “Hello Dolly,” and has signed for talent development with Jan Smith Studios in Atlanta, which is home to high-profile acts including Justin Bieber, Usher and The Band Perry.
To support Luna’s platform, T-shirts are available to purchase in small to extra-large at P2 Platform Pilates in Mountain Brook Village, or by contacting Luna through Instagram @marissaot8 or on Facebook at Marissa Luna.
In addition, Kendra Scott at The Summit will be hosting a “Gives Back Party” Aug. 30 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with T-shirts for sale and 20 percent of merchandise sales benefit- ting Children’s Miracle Network.