Lady Kate Atabond Njeuma was on a mission eight years ago to help young women who had moved to the United States from Africa to celebrate both their cultures.
As a Cameroonian American, she valued her new country, but also wanted to make sure she paid homage to the land of her birth. She wanted to make sure that young African-born American women had an opportunity to celebrate their two cultures and wanted to encourage them to move boldly as ambassadors between their homeland and their new home.
Out of that was borne the Miss Africa U.S.A. pageant, slated this year to be held June 29 at the Fillmore Theater in Silver Spring. Each year, dozens of young women from across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico vie for the title and prizes, which include a scholarship. This year, 21 young women from 21 African nations, from Angola to Zimbabwe, are designated to compete, she said.
Njeuma said the pageant differs from some, such as Miss Universe, because it is designed to showcase more than beauty and talent. The Miss Africa U.S.A. pageant seeks to recognize the candidates’ contribution to their communities in America and to empower young African women to become leaders.
“We are unique in that we are projecting the African culture,” she said. “Also, the caliber of girls we attract is very savvy. They are well educated. We are working with them to impact their communities and grooming them for leadership roles, to take part in major projects. Miss Universe is obviously the flagship of every pageant. We want to get to that level and we look up to a lot of what they do and how they do it.”
The first pageant was held in 2005 in Atlanta. Njeuma said she moved it to the D.C. area because of the “diversity” of the region in terms of African countries represented, she said.
The candidates, called delegates, adopt a “platform” to assist a community in Africa or the United States. Several of the delegates select their platforms based on their own experiences, including hunger/famine, health, access to education, literacy and even child slavery and human trafficking, organizers said.
The current queen is Cameroon-born Ghyslaine Tchouaga, 23, a full time student at the University of Baltimore studying public health. Her platform is hunger and she spent her term raising awareness about starvation in Somalia, organizers said. She was traveling in Africa and unavailable for comment.
Candidates hoping to make it into the pageant apply online, then participate in an audition where they are tested on public speaking and poise, Njeuma said.
She said funding is provided by private donors and small businesses, mostly Black-owned companies. This year’s sponsors include L’Oreal, a cosmetics company.
She said the recession has impacted donations.
“The African community helps,” Njeuma said. “We are reaching out to government to support the girls in what they do. As we grow, we are going to get more involvement.”
She said the organization has been recognized by a commendation from the state of Maryland.
“A citation from [Gov. Martin O’Malley] will be read at the pageant,” Njeuma said.