LAURINBURG —When Laurinburg native Nuekie Aku Opata first visited Ghana nearly two years ago, she felt she had come home. And in a sense she had.
“I had this ceremony and it was such a sense of belonging and community that I experienced over there. When I came back I was on such a high and I said I can’t just let this be the end. I’ve got to do something else,” Opata said.
She hopes the young women who compete in the first-ever Miss Tema Humanitarian Scholarship Pageant later this summer have a similar sense of community. The pageant is a part of the three-day Tema planned for Labor Day weekend.
The festival is being organized by the African American Cultural Society of Scotland County, which held a joint ribbon cutting and open house with Lion Heart Branding, Marketing and Management on Thursday. The nonprofit cultural group and marketing business are located at 200 Atkinson St. Opata is leading both efforts.
She said her business goals and her dreams for the pageant are intertwined.
“The pageant will hone their entrepreneurial skills, their speaking skills,” she said. “We are going to do a heavy entrepreneurial piece in it too because we are always encouraging people to be business owners. We want to teach these girls how to be independent, how to have their own businesses.”
The pageant is open to young women of any race and includes competitions in talent, interview, and evening wear. The evening wear competition requires an African-inspired gown.
The pageant will be held Sept. 2 at Scotland High School auditorium with doors open at 6 p.m.
The winner of the Miss Tema contest will have a choice between three prizes: a $1,000 scholarship; a $1,000 shopping spree; or $1,000 toward travel to Ghana, Opata said. The Junior Miss winner will have the same options, but will compete for a $600 prize. The pageant judge will be former Miss Black North Carolina Shaunielle Foster. Singer and N.C. native Sunshine Anderson, will perform.
“I really hope the winner chooses the travel to Ghana,” Opata said. “If they do, they’ll have a special ceremony.”
Opata first visited Ghana in 2014 to take on the responsibility associated with becoming a tribal leader as her ancestors had before her. Opata is the granddaughter of a chief of the Shai tribe in Tema, Ghana, a western African country on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. Her father, Frederick Opata, met her mother Lee Opata, of Scotland County, when they were both students at NC A&T.
While in Ghana, she was given the name Nana Noyam Manye Opata — Queen Mother of Development. Opata said the trip helped her appreciate the depth and scope of African history, which she said is unknown to so many people.
“Royalty doesn’t just exist in England. I’ve got some photos of my grandfather with Prince Phillip. He’s in his regalia and I look at it and say, ‘He’s talking to him man to man.’” said Opata, whose first name — Nuekie — means princess in her grandfather’s native land.
From her experiences was born the idea of the African American Cultural Society of Scotland County and the Tema Fest.
Opata described the festival as an international downtown cultural arts festival. Vendors will include those who sell African art and Native American art, and a body paint artist. Food vendors will be there as well, along with educational displays, including one that will highlight African-American inventors and another that will feature African queens and kings.
The Black History 101 Mobile Museum will bring artifacts for display.
“They have artifacts dating from the transatlantic slave trade up through modern day culture,” Opata said. “He’s got some Klan robes, some slave manifests. It helps to make it real to us. It makes a difference when you see this.”
There will be an interfaith service on Sunday.
She added that the African American Cultural Society and the festival is open to all people interested in learning more about and promoting the understanding of the culture.
“We have white members, we have Native American members, so it truly is inclusive of everybody,” Opata said.
The festival, set for Sept. 3-4 will be held in the area of Atkinson, Cronly, Fairley, and Roper streets in downtown Laurinburg.
“I am definitely excited, passionate and a little bit exhausted but it will be worth it,” she said.
Vendors are still being sought for the festival. The deadline is Aug. 22. For vendor information call 910-280-3494. For other questions about the pageant or festival, call 910-706-7252.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.