Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, January 20, 2018

African Students Organization hosts Renaissance Pageant

Looking back on the 2017 ASO pageant

The night before the African Students’ Organization Renaissance Pageant, sophomore Amanda Nyang’oro was anxious.  

One portion of the pageant expects contestants to wear traditional attire. Nyang’oro, who was representing her home country of Tanzania in the pageant, still didn’t have a dress.

“I really didn’t want to wear someone else’s [dress] because I wanted to show people that I’m from Tanzania,” Nyang’oro said. “I really wanted to wear Tanzanian clothing garments so I could stay true to where I’m from.”

Fortunately for Nyang’oro, her Aunt Lulu sent her a dress that arrived just in time. The garment was made of bright kitenge fabric from Tanzania.

Nyang’oro wore this dress when she was crowned queen and junior Justin Neely was crowned king of the ASO Renaissance Pageant Saturday, Nov. 11.

Neely, who represented Nigeria during the pageant, said that learning more about the country made it a cool experience.

“I have no idea where I’m from in Africa; I’m just black in America,” Neely said. “And since I don’t know where I’m from, I’ve always been curious. This was an experience for me to delve into African culture.”

The pageant featured a fashion and question section, a traditional wear and talent section and one portion in which each contestant was asked why they wanted to become the next Mr. or Miss ASO.

Judges included Howard University’s Miss Afrique 2016 Esther Okechuwu, AU alumnus Neo Moneri and AU Office of Dean of Students Case Manager Susan Kodzwa.

Following a designated rubric, judges primarily looked for contestants who had a deep engagement with the crowd. Knowledge of Africa is also important, as seen during the question portion of the evening, said Ashley Tabi, ASO co-president.

“Potential winners should have impact,” Tabi said. “When the judges are seeing them answer those questions, they want to know how much do [the contestants] know and how convincing and compassionate they are in their answers. That same conviction and passion needs to be translated throughout the entire time they’re onstage.”

For the talent portion, Nyang’oro sung the slow, intimate “Mr. Jailer” by Asa with former ASO pageant contestant Anthony Mensah strumming the guitar beside her.

Neely performed an original song titled “Memories,” describing the two different realities experienced by living in two different places. Neely said the song was personal, as he had drawn from his own life experiences.

“At the beginning of my life I lived in northern Virginia, and then for a short period of time we moved to California near Oakland,” Neely said. “To put it into context, my cousin had gotten shot like thirteen times [in California] and it was like, that never happened while we were out here on the east where we lived in a good neighborhood.”

The contestants performed in front of an audience larger than that of previous ASO pageants, with more than 100 guests in attendance. It was the “best one yet,” Tabi said.

“It’s been by far our largest turnout in all the years that I’ve been here, and I think there’s a wholesomeness to the contestants that I really enjoyed,” she said. “The way they expressed themselves just felt very organic.”

Faculty involvement also distinguished this year’s event from that of previous years, with SIS professorial lecturer Omekongo Dibinga performing a poem and involving his two daughters as well.

Attendees were also entertained throughout the evening with performances from AU’s Les Coeurs D’Afrique dance team, live traditional music and mixed African and Western beats by a local DJ while enjoying Senegalese food.  

To Tabi, the relationships and interactions throughout the pageant were a major part of what mattered most.

“That’s what’s most important to me about the ASO pageant. It’s the relationships that form from that and how it fosters community,” Tabi said.

cjames@theeagleonline.com


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