With sashes draped across their chests, the African queens flaunted their traditional garb and knowledge of the countries announced on their sashes at the Annual African King & Queen Pageant Friday.
With contributions from the African Studies Program and Outside the Classroom Curriculum, the African Students Organization held their sixth Annual African King & Queen Pageant in the O’Hara Ballroom, and crowned Frances Akwuole as the new queen. The proceeds from the $1 entry fee went to the Duduzile Academy in Gambogi, Kenya — a school founded in 1998.
Nicole Njuguna, a senior majoring in biology, who has attended the pageant for all four years of her time at Pitt, said this event is important because it spreads awareness about African culture and diminishes misconceptions about it.
“It’s important to show people that Africa is not a country,” Njuguna said. “It’s a continent full of different cultures, and we’re all different.”
This year was a little different, though, because it was a “queens only edition.” President of ASO Ruba Idris said the reason for it being “queens only” was because the event is based on participation, and no kings wanted to sign up this year. But she said she thought the event was successful and its theme of education was important.
“Because we are at an educational institute, we feel it is our duty to give back to the academic community [and] also to where we come from — whether that’s giving back physically, financially or just giving support,” Idris said. “We want to spread awareness about education issues that go on within the continent of Africa.”
The pageant was not only an opportunity for contestants to model different outfits, but also a chance to introduce the culture and history of different African countries. The contestants were required to research their countries, presented on a person they thought best represented the country, perform a talent and answer questions from the five judges — one of them being Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner.
To kick off the event, the Ya’baso Dance Team performed a lively routine, which excited the crowd for the rest of the event. Then, each contestant stepped up to the podium to introduce themselves and give a brief history of their country.
First up was Blya Krouba, or Miss Côte d’Ivoire, a first-year student on the pre-med track. Growing up in Côte d’Ivoire, her first language is French and she moved to the United States when she was eight years old. Upon moving to America, she said she noticed people were more individualistic, whereas in her home country there was more of a sense of community.
“[In the United States] you can’t go over to your next door neighbor’s house and just have dinner with them,” Krouba said.
Uyai Akpakpan — a first-year neuroscience major representing Somalia — and Aderinsola Popoola — a sophomore on the pre-med track representing Morocco — followed Krouba. Both of these contestants are originally from Nigeria, but said they chose different countries to expose themselves to different cultures and learn more about them.
Kayleigh Gaborek was the next queen presented. A graduate student in Pitt’s Master of Special Education program, she is currently a social studies teacher at an elementary school in Wilkinsburg. Gaborek said this event was important to her because she was representing Ghana — where two of her friends are from — and because of her passion for education.
“I think it’s important because as a history teacher a lot of our studies in America are focused on Europe, and we don’t really hear a lot about Africa, and definitely not in a positive way,” Gaborek said. “[Africa is] a whole continent [with] so many rich and diverse cultures.”
The final two contestants were Thando Dube, a first year majoring in sociology, representing South Africa and Frances Akwuole, a junior microbiology major getting a certificate in American Sign Language, as Miss Kenya.
During the intermission, where traditional African foods like jollof rice and mandaazi — also known as Swahili Coconut Doughnuts— were served, Dube talked about how she loves performing and singing, which she would soon do in the upcoming talent portion.
“I love being on stage, and maybe I like it a little bit too much,” Dube said. “There’s just something about it that appeals to me. It’s like how you pick your favorite color. You don’t know why it’s your favorite color — it just is.”
Each contestant then performed and presented different talents. Krouba displayed her artwork, Akpakpan performed a dance and Popoola presented a video of her photography. Gaborek talked about her teaching methods and her experience at a school with children who come from rough home lives. Dube and Akwuole closed out the talent portion with musical acts.
The queens then made speeches about the person they picked, followed by answering the judges’ pageant questions. Krouba spoke about Félix Houphouët-Boigny — the first president of Côte d’Ivoire. When asked by one of the judges what single thing would she change in the world if she could, Krouba said it would be the lack of access to education.
“I would give everyone access to education, especially in Africa where there a lot of low income families,” Krouba said. “Education is important because you use knowledge [as] power to make change.”
Akpakpan discussed Hawa Abdi, Somalia’s first female gynecologist who promoted equality over clan loyalty and protected women from getting beaten by their husbands. Popoola presented South African civil rights activist Desmond Tutu, and Gaborek talked about the chef Elijah Amoo Addo.
Dube chose to talk about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — the first woman to lead an African country — and Akwuole wrapped the portion up with Mellen Marucha, the Educational Support Program Coordinator of Deaf Aid Kenya who helps those with hearing impairments.
After much deliberation from the judges, the host, Chauncey Alexander, announced Miss Kenya as the new queen.
“I’m not the type of person to be cocky or arrogant and think I’m gonna win, so I was just hoping that my best was shown,” Akwuole said at the end of the pageant. “I’m happy that I won, but the contestants were amazing and I’m just happy that I had this experience.”