By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Performing Arts Center (PAC) received a royal visit on Wednesday when Mfonobong Essiet, the reigning Miss Africa USA, dropped by to announce the facility will be the site of the next pageant on Nov. 1.
The competition began four years ago as a way, in the United States, to highlight African culture and issues facing the continent. The contestants are natives of African countries, who are currently living in the U.S. The theme for this year's pageant is "USA Support for Africa."
Each contestant is required to show off the culture of her native country, during the competition. For the talent portion, each participant has to showcase something from her homeland, such as a native song or traditional dance.
"The people of Clayton County are going to have an amazing time, and they will get an opportunity to discover various African cultures," said Essiet, 22, a native of Nigeria, who is currently working on a master's degree in biomedical sciences at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla.
State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) played an instrumental role in getting pageant organizers to pick the PAC for this year's event. A mutual friend introduced Glanton to First Lady Kate Njeuma, the founder and chief executive officer of the pageant, last fall and he received an invitation to attend the pageant, which was held at the Ashok International Center in Norcross.
He was awestruck by the way African culture was on display during the pageant. It was hosted by models, Digol Deng and Noella Coursaris, and featured performances by several African musicians. He said he believed the growing number of Africans who are immigrating to Clayton County, particularly the northeastern section of the county, could benefit from having the pageant come to Jonesboro.
"It will let members of the community discover the culture and traditions of some of their neighbors," Glanton said.
The representative came back to Jonesboro and initiated a dialogue between Njeuma and PAC administrator, Anita Lloyd. The first lady visited the PAC to check out the facility and decided it would be a good place to hold the pageant.
While Glanton said the pageant will provide an educational experience for the county, he is also hopeful it will inspire female students who attend Clayton County schools. "What really struck me about the contestants is that, while they are very beautiful and very intelligent, when you begin to hear their biographies ... You realize they are very accomplished young ladies as well," he said.
Essiet has selected medicine as the cause she wants to promote during her reign. She is working to raise awareness in America about the plight of AIDS patients in several African nations, as well as the medical issues which must be overcome to provide health care in many parts of the continent. She hopes it will help encourage stronger assistance from people in the United States.
"I want people to see they [doctors] don't have simple tools, such as latex gloves, sheets for the mattresses or even incubators," Essiet said. "The basic needs are not being met and that's what drew me to the field. Without our health, we wouldn't exist."
Essiet said any natives of Africa living in the Clayton County area who want to be a contestant in the 2008 pageant can participate in the preliminaries, which will be held on June 14 at 4 p.m., at Georgia State University's Urban Life Auditorium, 33 Gilmer St., Atlanta. There is a $50 registration fee and interested females can contact pageant organizers at (404) 921-2451.
Lloyd said she and other PAC officials are thrilled to host the pageant, because the facility frequently hosts events that promote cultural diversity, whether those cultures be from India, China or various countries in Africa. She also said the PAC will play host to the Miss Georgia, Miss Teen Georgia, Mrs. Georgia and Miss Alabama pageants in 2009 and 2010.
"From theater agents, to producers, to promoters, people in Georgia are finding out about this jewel we have here," Lloyd said.
On the net:
Miss Africa USA Pageant: www.missafricaunitedstates.com/