My name is Hannah Zwolensky. I am a 19-year-old, full-time college student from Owosso, and currently the former Miss Curwood Festival Court Member. I come from a low-income family. I have faced struggles my entire life and share that common background with the majority who live in Owosso. I am an avid activist, so I ran for Miss Curwood in 2017 with hopes of using that platform to create awareness and change within my community. My title was removed on Tuesday, Jan. 23 after nearly a year of service to the festival because of the incident I depict below.
On Wednesday, Jan. 17, an employee of Birch & Elm – a local boutique – posted a poll on social media asking, “What are the reasons you don’t shop local?” Being a resident of Owosso and an active member of the community, I, along with many others responded with our reasons. Most came down to price. During what was thought to be a calm discussion about why prices were too high for most of our local citizens to meet, words were exchanged that were offensive and discriminatory to the majority of Owosso residents who live under the poverty line. The business owner, Shannon Howansky, made a comment directed at me and another person, stating, “I pray you search for more and work harder than ever so you can afford $20 spoons and a $40 dollar pair of jeans.” This came after me making myself vulnerable by explaining my own financial situation of my father being on a fixed income due to being disabled. Distraught by the treatment of our citizens by this person – who was supposed to be a leader in our town – I took to social media to express the concerns of our people and advocate for those that needed it most. Telling those who are disadvantaged to “work harder” to somehow become not poor is misinformed and plainly untrue. Systematic oppression and societal stigma is what keeps the poor from becoming rich, not their lack of work ethic.
The social media post received a myriad of likes and shares, with citizens of Owosso sharing their own stories of discrimination that they faced by this business and their owners. The Curwood Festival executive board reached out to me, saying that my actions were in breach of royal conduct. They made me write an apology letter to the owners of the business and take down the post. I defended myself in my actions and assured the festival that it would look worse on them to remove a scholarship and title from a low-income college student who is advocating for the people in her town that shared the same background as her. I was willing to do whatever it took to be able to keep my scholarship, because it was something I had worked for and spent countless dollars on to keep since April of 2017. Most of all, I needed it. In the end they decided to remove my title and revoke my scholarship.
The Curwood Festival’s response to a member of their community fighting injustice and classism was to take away a scholarship from someone in need. This is just another instance of the deep structural and systematic oppression that people face daily in our community. The actions of the Curwood Festival cannot and should not go unnoticed. The Curwood Festival, before me, had never had a member of royalty that actually represented the citizens of Owosso – someone who faced hunger, struggle and discrimination because of their socioeconomic status and lack of name recognition. This would not have happened to an affluent and privileged woman.
It is very clear that the Curwood Festival merely wanted someone to sit pretty and smile when asked. Instead, they got a woman ready to fight for the injustice in her community. This platform finally gave me the voice and audience to speak out and create change. That was threatening to them, because I would not say what they wanted me to. I spoke the truth. There have also been incidents with misconduct among the board members of the Curwood Festival and those that run the pageant, yet none of them have been removed or reprimanded. I believe it is only right to hold their executive board to the same standards that they hold their royalty to.
I would like to start a movement in our community; one that stands for the fair and equal treatment of all citizens. A movement that gives a voice to those in our community who the elite refuse to hear. It is our time to organize, and it is our time to fight back.
I have screenshots of the post in question, evidence of misconduct by Curwood board members, and documentation from the Curwood Festival about my removal that I am more than willing to share.
Former Miss Curwood Festival Court Member