By Joel Hall
Eighteen of the world's most beautiful, talented, and civic-minded African women will compete for the title of Miss Africa USA this weekend at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center.
The pageant, hosted by the African Women's Development Foundation (AWDF), which addresses health and education issues impacting African women, brings together African expatriates and second-generation African women who have best represented their own countries at various pageants across the United States.
The winner will take home a $2,500 scholarship, a variety of gifts and prizes, and will have the chance to have her own humanitarian vision put into motion by the AWDF.
Lady Kate Njeuma, a member of Cameroon royalty who founded the AWDF and the pageant several years ago, started the pageant as a way for Africans living in America to reconnect to their culture, while giving back to their homeland.
"The idea was to provide a platform for young women to express their talent, showcase their culture, and provide opportunities for them to get involved in humanitarian work," said Njeuma. "It's not just about beauty. The beauty is there, but they have to have a lot of substance. The winner also has a mission to serve."
Njeuma said the competition is a celebration of the diverse cultures of Africa. The competition will include a "Parade of Nations," in which each contestant will bear her nation's flag and wear regalia native to her country. The contestants will be judged on talent, fashion, expository speaking, and her humanitarian platforms by a panel of well-known judges, including Kristen White, the reigning Miss Black USA 2008.
The pageant will also feature performances by the Cameroon National Ballet and the West African Masquerade Dancers of Gambia. Hosting the event? Maryline Blackburn -- the woman who triumphed over Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and others to win Miss Alaska 1984 -- and film producer Marlon Campbell.
State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), one of the event's main organizers, said the pageant will be beneficial to Clayton County from entertainment, business, and educational aspects.
"There is a whole lot of substance in a pageant like this," said Glanton. "Clayton County, as well as the metropolitan area, has an increasing population of African natives, so this goes to the core of community participation. Each of these ladies comes to the pageant with a passion for something happening in her country, whether religious, cultural or political."
Njeuma said the performance will go beyond pageantry to talk about serious issues, such as the widespread rape taking place in The Democratic Republic of Congo and the genocide still taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"It really brings together the 53 countries [which make up Africa]," said Njeuma. "It also brings together African Americans and the wider community that wants to learn about Africa. Everybody leaves happy that they have learned something new."
Tickets to the event are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. To purchase tickets or vote on the contestants, visit www.missafricaunitedstates.com, or call (678) 663-5892.