LAURINBURG — “Did you know that we are young, gifted, and black, and that is a fact?”
Such was the assurance, delivered in unison, of the 10 contestants in Friday’s Miss Kuumba pageant, after each introduced herself and provided a fast fact about African countries from Egypt to Zimbabwe.
“Did you know that Nigeria has an industry called Nollywood that produces over 200 movie products per week?” Ashley Whitfield asked.
“Did you know Zimbabwe is a name meaning house of the stones?” was Levia Monroe’s query.
The 13th annual pageant, typically the opening event for the Kuumba Festival, was held at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School. Contestants were judged based on their judged on poise and appearance, personal introduction, personality during the interview segment, modeling, and talent.
Contestants marched in to the beat of an African drum, danced as a group, and modeled African-inspired fashions. The pageant aims to help young women embrace their heritage and instill a sense of curiosity about the world outside of Scotland County.
“We need to stand behind our young ladies,” said Tyris Jones, who directed the pageant along with Sheila Swift and Tarrah Jennings. “Some of them are talked down to and some of them are not inspired.”
But the talents on offer on Friday were anything but uninspired, including an African dance by sisters Ladaya and Jamilya Roberts and Mary McLean’s rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come,” which earned her the evening’s “Miss Congeniality” title.
During the interview segment, the four judges learned more about each contestant, from Sha’cara McKay’s desire to visit New York City to ShaNiya Thomas’ proposition that the best use of $100 would be a family trip to Carowinds.
The three Miss Kuumba contestants each provided insight into their hopes and dreams for the future.
“I’m telling you, these parents are going to be proud of their children,” said emcee Jackie Yates-Leach.
For Scotland Early College High School senior Taylor Davis, that means medical school. Mary McLean, a Scotland High School junior, hopes to pursue both cosmetology and music. Jazzmine Davis, in her final year at Scotland Early College High, has plans to become a neonatal nurse.
“They work with the premature babies in the ICU,” Davis said. “For families in that situation it can be very stressful, and nurses are there to help you calm down and to comfort you and to be a shoulder for you to cry on. I want to be a nurse because I want to be that type of person.”
Contestants in the 2015 Miss Kuumba Pageant were Breyanna McKay, Sha’cara McKay, and ShaNiya Thomas for Miss Princess Kuumba, Levia Monroe, Ashley Whitfield, Ladaya Roberts, and Jamilya Roberts for Miss Junior Kuumba, and Taylor Davis, Jazzmine Davis, and Mary McLean for Miss Kuumba.
Winners will be announced today at noon during the Kuumba Festival. The festival opens at 10 a.m. at Market Park.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.