Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Pageants aren’t exactly Adesuwa Osayaren’s bailiwick.
The Grand Canyon University biology major, with a premed emphasis, said, “That’s my sister.”
Her sister, Itohan Osayaren, is Miss Black Nevada 2018.
“The closest thing I’ve ever done was the debutante program back in high school,” said Osayaren, who on Saturday was crowned the first Miss Africa Arizona. The Antelope Gym event was presented by the GK Folks Foundation and hosted by the University’s African Student Association.
It was on a whim that Osayaren decided to sign up for the cultural pageant, which offers scholarships to winners. She walked by an African Student Association table, where organization members were handing out fliers about the event.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’ Normally, I’d be, ‘No!’”
While other pageants focus on beauty, this one put the spotlight on cultural heritage. That made a difference to Osayaren, who is a first-generation American.
“Our goal is to help African students here and African refugee students in the United States gain competitive skills to help them advance in life, and we provide a platform to showcase African culture and help them develop skills in the workplace,” GK Folks Foundation Executive Director Gloria Mensah said, adding that the pageant is “more culturally focused and educationally based.”
According to Mensah, competitors must be females of African descent — first- through third-generation — and must range in age from 18-30. They cannot be married or separated, and they must be in good standing with their respective schools and/or organizations.
The cultural scholarship program is offered in Utah, Idaho and, now, Arizona.
Samuel Buadoo, President of GCU’s African Student Association, told “Good Morning Arizona” that the club wanted to bring Miss Africa Arizona to campus because “GCU is a school that supports cultural diversity.”
Osayaren’s family is from Nigeria, and so she represented that country in Miss Africa Arizona, which also featured contestants representing Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Rwanda.
The new Miss Africa Arizona is from Nevada – she decided GCU was the university for her after attending a Discover GCU event – and grew up in a household where “respect is a big thing as well as education and, of course, God.”
She said certain things in her Nigerian culture wouldn’t mean the same thing to others: “Little gestures, like I couldn’t hand something to my mom with my left hand – it’s a sign of disrespect.”
Osayaren, whose father is a pharmacist and mom is in medical billing, had to come up with more than just an evening gown for the competition; she also needed traditional garments from the country she was representing. Her Parade of Nations outfit had to reflect the colors of her country’s flag.
A church member helped her make some of her attire for the traditional outfit. “My mom was super excited for that,” she said.
As for her purple evening gown, apropos considering she’s a GCU student, Osayaren said she wore her prom dress.
What likely made the bright and plucky Osayaren stand out was a poem she recited while donning traditional Nigerian clothing, including a vibrant red shirt and patterned yellow skirt:
“If I could go back to my younger years
A couple, two or three,
What would I tell my younger self of who she’s meant to be?
I’d say, Child of Africa,
Open your ears, do not be deceived,
What I’m about to tell you is truth that no one could take from you or me.
I’d say, ‘Know your roots
‘And do not be disgraced.
‘You are more than a color or a pigment or a race.
‘This hair they call nappy, and this skin they call brown,
‘You wear it like a queen, with your afro as your crown.”
The poem emphasized culture, tradition, family, education – all the things she grew up cherishing – and also included cultural empowerment, “When people say you can’t, you say, ‘Listen, I’m Afri-CAN!’”
Osayaren, who wants to become an obstetrician and gynecologist, said part of her duties as Miss Africa Arizona will be to make media appearances and give talks at different schools and events, where she will speak about such topics as being proud of your culture — and yourself.
Her platform is “Cheerfully and Wonderfully Made: Women of Value.”
She wants to speak to girls who struggle with self-image, she said, and tell them, “You don’t have to meet society’s standards.”
She already has been invited to appear at a couple of events this weekend, which she’s squeezing into her busy GCU schedule as a premed student and as an active member of her church, where she’s involved with the Young Adult Single Ministry.
Osayaren said she was most concerned during the competition about how to represent her platform but is ready to help empower young women.
“I still can’t believe I won,” she said.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.