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Two years after the Syracuse University African Students’ Union held the first Miss Africa pageant, Whitney Sossou was faced with the decision of whether or not to revitalize the competition after her COVID-19 hiatus. Although Sossou, the current ASU president, had no previous experience planning pageants, a former ASU president encouraged her to organize the show.
Sossou said the Miss Africa pageant was a way for students to connect with African culture as part of ASU’s larger goal.
“We are here to showcase the diversity and cultures that the African continent carries, as well as to provide a safe community for Africans who are on campus by providing events that make them feel at home,” Sossou said.
The competition, held Thursday at the Goldstein auditorium, brought together three candidates, Mané Thiane and Khadidiatou Faye representing Senegal and Mariama Barry representing Guinea. Each contestant displayed their national pride and discussed their personal aspirations in the competition through the career, talent and Q&A sections. The competition also included several musical and dance performances by SU students and other well-known artists, including DJ Buka and Connell Thompson.
The contest opened with a performance by SU’s Outlaw Dance Troupe. The competition also featured a dance performance by Morgan State University’s L’Union D’Afrique dance group, who offered to perform for free after seeing the other ASU events on social media. .
DJ Buka, a New York-based artist, provided music throughout the night alongside MC Muna, who hailed from SUNY Geneseo.
Judging the contestants was a panel of women, all of whom had personal involvement with ASU. Christabel Sheldon, Education Advisor for ASU and Director of McNair Fellowship Program to the SU, was accompanied by SU alumni Nneka Akukwe and Chinelo Onyekwere.
Sheldon led the Q&A section for the candidates, which focused on topics including social media, education, race, women’s empowerment and the African community at The League.
SU sophomores Shakira Santos and Ajak Afet sang a duet cover of the song “Stand by Me” before the final Q&A section. The two had performed separately at other ASU events prior to the Miss Africa pageant.
“I thought their voices would work so well together, so I called them both up and they worked on this duet,” Sossou said.
During the career and talent sections, each candidate had the opportunity to present their personal goals and interests in a creative way. Barry, a sophomore in information management and technology from Harlem, gave a TED talk on technology security.
“I thought it would be boring for the crowd because I’m a computer science major, but then we talked about doing a TED Talk,” Barry said. “And that was kind of scary for me because public speaking is hard for me, so doing a TED Talk took me out of my comfort zone.”
She followed her speech with a display of clothes she designed and sewed herself to connect with her personal interests and talents in fashion.
The process of preparing for the competition took a lot of time from the contestants and their “competition moms” who helped them practice and develop their skills. Ifechukwu Uche-Onyilofor, another SU student, was Thiane’s sophomore mentor.
“She has been my mentor throughout. She helped me with my questions; we put my career together; she scheduled my workouts – she was basically the one who organized my contest experience,” Thiane said.
Thiane, who has previously participated in ASU fashion shows and the SU ONEWORLD dance group, decided to compete to get out of their comfort zone. She felt the process taught her more about herself and boosted her confidence to achieve her goals.
Before the Miss Africa winner was announced, Thompson, a saxophonist, played a set of pop song covers. Thompson is known for his collaborative work with African musician Burna Boy and for his covers of songs by Fireboy DML and Wizkid.
Faye was eventually crowned Miss Africa 2022. Faye, who grew up in the Bronx, is a sophomore studying international relations. During her participation in the competition, she spoke about her career goal of becoming an ambassador in her home country of Senegal, and shared a piece of poetry about her experience as an African woman.
Faye said she worked on her career goals before the show as part of the preparation process with Sossou, who put her in touch with the chief adviser to the president of Togo. “It wasn’t just about looking nice and having fun, but about making real connections that I could use for my career later in life,” Faye said.
The aim of the competition was to show the cultures of Africa to help African SU students feel welcome and also to break down stereotypes about Africa, Sossou said.
“In the media, everyone sees the bad sides of Africa – the poverty – nobody sees how rich Africa is, nobody sees the nice things to do, the luxuries, so we try to make the people proud of where they come from,” says Sossou. “So that’s also one of the main reasons because the three girls we had are very proud to be from Senegal and Guinea and they want to show it, so it was both a show of culture and a fun event.”
Published on April 5, 2022 at 00:07