Caribbean Circle throws first Roots and Rhythm pageant in three years
The pageant celebrates its participants’ roots with the wider community
American University's Caribbean Circle hosted its Roots and Rhythm pageant for the first time in three years on March 19.
The pageant took place in the Mary Graydon Center Tavern and the space was rendered almost unrecognizable, decked out in white tables and golden balloons spelling “Roots and Rhythms.” A platform stage sat near the doors leading to the campus store and a small DJ booth stood to the left with curtains covering the space, where the contestants waited to get on stage. The judges’ table stood at the end of the runway.
The pageant was run in a similar style to that of Miss America, where the contestants compete for the title of King and Queen of the Carnival through fashion, talent and interview sections. Two of the six contestants are then chosen for the title.
The show began presenting the contestants as they walked down the runway waving the flags of their countries. Sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences Arielle Moore represented Guyana, School of Public Affairs junior Adelina Decius represented Haiti, junior in the School of International Service Karissa Frederick for Grenada and sophomore in CAS Ahsanti Webley for Jamaica. In the men’s category, sophomore in CAS TreVaughn Ellis represented Jamaica and junior in the SPA Ehren Layne came in for Antigua.
After the crowd was acquainted with the contestants, it shifted into the talent portion of the performance. Decius danced for her portion, wearing a red skirt that was as much a part of her performance as her dance partner. Layne also danced for his talent, garnering cheers of approval from the audience throughout his performance. Frederick was the only singer of the group, singing “Session 32” completely a cappella. Singing without any backing should be lauded as brave regardless of her performance but Frederick was impressive, especially as she gained confidence over the course of the song.
It was the two poets, however, who completely stole the show.
Moore was the first poet and recited “Of Course When They Ask for Poems About the ‘Realities’ of Black Women” by Grace Nichols. Moore had absolutely no trouble claiming the stage as if it were hers. Her chill-inducing performance was powerful and garnered murmurs of approval and agreement from the audience.
Ellis recited original poetry which accompanied a painting he’d done. His confidence created a magnetic stage presence as an animated storyteller. His poem spoke to claiming one's identity and confidence.
“The Caribbean Islands and the adjacent Caribbean really have had an incredible impact on pop culture and music but [it] goes unacknowledged in a lot of discourse,” said Makenna Lindsay a Junior in the CAS and co-president of the Caribbean Circle in an interview. “We throw a pageant to shine light on Caribbean culture.”
The Caribbean Circle not only celebrated Caribbean students, but the D.C. Caribbean community at large. Richards Carnival, a local Carnival costume shop, decked out the club’s e-board in glittering and feathery costumes that were featured towards the end of the runway show. Members took to the stage in the feathery, jewel bedecked outfits that were designed for the streets of the Carnival.
The fashion portion of the show allowed the contestants to show off their own style. Webley in particular owned the runway as she strutted toward the judges in a blue floor-length gown that was as elegant as it was eye-catching. Frederick kept with the color scheme in a stunning sky blue silk gown with a thigh-high slit and stilettos. Moore wore a rose gold sequins form fitting cocktail dress. Layne wore bell bottom jeans and scuffed white shoes that felt more casual than the gowns worn by the other contestants but still had an edge of class. Ellis went with an all black ensemble with gold highlights. Decius wore a traditional dress and a dark blue head-dress.
Several local restaurants provided food, including The Jerk Pit, Sunrise, Gisele’s, El Tamarindo and Crown Bakery. The food represented different dishes from the islands including coco bread, goat meat and mac and cheese.
This show was three years in the making as the Caribbean Circle had a show slated for 2020 and even had contestants selected until the coronavirus pandemic derailed their plans. Members from the class of 2020 created the template Lindsay and her Eboard based their show on.
“We were doing it for them,” Lindsay said.
As people finished their meals, they flooded to the isles and the open space surrounding the stage to dance and sing as they waited for the show to resume. The interview portion allowed the contestants to showcase their personalities. Every contestant expressed pride for the country they were representing and a wish to see it appreciated in their wider community.
These were the deciding remarks for the show and it became a very tight race between Ellis and Layne, judges even asking additional questions to determine between the two. Eventually, the judges agreed to anoint Moore, who represented Guyana, as Queen of the Carnival and Ellis, for Jamaica, as King. That brought the evening to a close as the winners took their crowns.