Teni Bello is a junior sports communication major at Montclair State University. In addition to being a student, she is also a model who was recently crowned Miss New Jersey Earth USA 2021.
Her mother, originally from Nigeria, is a single mother of five children. Despite living in poverty, her mother always managed to give the best to Bello and her siblings.
While growing up, Bello was never interested in the world of modeling or pageantry. She loved playing sports like football or soccer with her cousins and had a special place in her heart for track and field.
However, everything changed when Bello received an unexpected letter of recommendation to join an exclusive organization.
“It was around fifth grade. I got a letter in the mail to this organization called National American Miss,” Bello said. “It was talking about how this organization is built towards building young adults and ladies for pageantry.”
In order to receive a letter, however, one must be nominated.
“I got recommended by someone who, until this very day, I don’t even know,” Bello said. “I guess someone who competed in the pageant the year before.”
She began pageantry in 2012 and has been competing every summer since. Each time, she was improving her skills by learning from the other contestants who made the top five, as well as learning more about the industry.
Without a doubt, the best moments come at the most unexpected times. For Bello, that event came last year after winning the Miss New Jersey Earth USA title at a time when she wanted to give pageantry a break.
“The day after the New Jersey USA pageant, someone introduced me to this pageant system [Miss New Jersey Earth], and they recommended I should compete for the state pageant literally a week from [that day],” Bello said. “So, I had a week to prepare for that pageant and I was like, ‘How am I going to prepare for a pageant in a week?’”
Despite being unsure about competing, Bello won. Winning was both a surprise and a blessing at the same time. It took a whole week to digest the great news for both her and her family, especially for her mother, who has supported her daughter in her pageant career from the beginning, despite facing her own challenges.
In 2018, Bello and her family were evicted from their own house after returning from a trip to Nigeria.
“My mom and I tried to get into the house and it was locked,” Bello said. “We tried to call the landlord and they said we [weren’t allowed to] get into the house no more.”
During that whole week, Bello and her family had to live in her mother’s car, shower in the house of one of their neighbors every morning to get ready for school and eat fast food every day.
“[Me and my brother] would go to school with smiles on our faces and people wouldn’t know what was actually going on,” Bello said.
This experience strengthened her as a person and helped her willingness to give back to homeless people in similar situations. Winning Miss New Jersey Earth USA 2021 allowed her to help others and ‘become the voice of the voiceless.’
Bello has been director of several events for campus recreation such as the Sleep Out event that took place this March at Montclair State. She also created a non-profit organization called Teenversity, a project which helps displaced youth to motivate themselves to work and follow their dreams of getting ahead in life.
Danny Livingston, a senior communication and media arts major, has heard about Teenversity and thinks this concept will make a difference in the future of many young people.
“It’s inspiring,” Livingston said.”It shows how [Bello] is willing to put the work in to assist the future generation for those who are less fortunate.”
Many Montclair State University students like Terry Dickerson, a sophomore journalism and digital media major, have been inspired by the good energy Bello radiates through her projects and goals. Dickerson even had her on her show “The Morning Buzz” on 90.3 WMSC.
“Her perseverance and care for her community really [shined] through during our conversation,” Dickerson said. “I love how she has been able to turn her struggles into strengths, which I believe allows her to be such a great advocate for the well-being of all people.”
Continuing to spread positivity, Bello sends a message to all Montclair State students about fulfilling their dreams and goals, as well as helping in a variety of ways through community service.
“Don’t let what you’ve done define you,” Bello said. “Use your story to help others.”