Avery Wells hugs Paris Buckner after their first place wins in ISEC's first "For the Culture" pageant on Friday. "A true king shines not by being the center of attention, but through acts that uplift others around him," Wells said. (Photo by Marlowe Hanel)
Building a legacy: The first ‘Mr. and Miss For the Culture’ pageant
Music, refreshments and drinks awaited spectators as they entered the first Mr. and Miss “For the Culture” Pageant on Friday. Students and parents gathered in the foyer of the Downing Student Union auditorium to eat, drink and socialize with contestants prior to the competition.
The pageant was sponsored by the WKU Intercultural Student Engagement Center and co-directed by Lamario Moore, assistant director of ISEC. Moore said the first “For the Culture” competition’s mission was unique.
“A lot of our students are always looking for resume experience. They’re looking for an opportunity to compete for some of those larger university opportunities,” Moore said.“So, we wanted to create a platform that those students were able to showcase their excellence.”
Moore said that he wanted to bring Black excellence pageant culture to WKU. He explained what future applicants can do to be “for the culture.”
“I think just to be about (Black) culture is just unapologetically, yourself,” Moore said. “Just be great. Be excellent at everything that you do.”
The theme of the competition was “Afrofuturism.” The National Museum of African American History and Culture defines Afrofuturism as “an expression of notions of Black identity, agency, and freedom through art, creative works, and activism that envision liberated futures” for Black life through a sci-fi lens.
In September, contestants were selected based on their enthusiasm during the application process. Pageant co-director Kiria Braden said contestants worked hard for months perfecting their costumes, performances, talents and personal take on the theme.
“Practicing was kind of difficult at first because a lot of them were really scared to be on stage,” Braden said. “But after we got in the groove of everything, we started to really build that confidence for them “
The contest featured five categories: introductions, runway, talent, platform and eveningwear with question and answer. Six competitors took the stage; three female and three male.
The first round featured a choreographed number performed by the six contestants. There were three Miss “For the Culture” contestants: Nieya Dorsey, Paris Buckner and Hallie House; and three Mr. “For the Culture” contestants: Jaylin Heater, Orion Armstrong and Avery Wells.
In the second round of competition, contestants modeled outfits that showcased their interpretation of Afrofuturism.
The third round of competition allowed contestants to showcase their talents, including singing, dancing, poetry and more. Avery Wells, a senior political science major from Louisville, used poetry and dance to recognize and address the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly affecting Black men in Bowling Green and Kentucky.
A study conducted by U.S News explains that children who attend schools with high suspension rates are significantly more likely to be arrested and jailed as adults – especially Black and Hispanic boys.
“My talent was something very special to me and something that I feel like tells the story of a lot of (my) people,” Wells said. “I was kind of nervous about it because it is a relatively new piece to me, so to be able to execute that in front of so many people made me feel really special. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
The next round of competition required critical thinking from each participant. Contestants were instructed to select social justice issues and explain their importance through pre-recorded videos. Contestants selected a wide range of topics, including dog cruelty and diversity in music education.
Paris Buckner, a sophomore exercise science major from Hopkinsville, used her platform to discuss mental health in the Black community, which she said isn’t discussed enough.
“A lot of people don’t feel like they have people they can speak up and talk to, so I just want to help people find an outlet to do so,” Buckner said.
For the final round, contestants walked the stage in their best formal attire. They wore dresses, suits and smiles that gained the audience’s applause while getting escorted by a person of their choice.
Each contestant was asked a question to be answered live in front of the judges. The questions varied from, “What does it mean to be a scholar?” to “What piece of advice would you give to the younger generation?”
Following the final round, the judges deliberated as audience members anticipated the outcome, shouting the number of the contestants they favored to win.
Multiple awards were presented by Braden. In addition to the two main titles, the pageant presented awards for the contestant who sold the most advertisements for the event and viewers’ choice. Both titles went to freshman Jaylin Heater.
The first runner-up for Miss “For the Culture” went to sophomore Hallie House. The official title of Miss “For the Culture” as well as Miss Congeniality went to Paris Buckner. She explained she was very nervous about competing in a pageant but was glad she did.
“It actually felt amazing. I wish we all could have won, we all did great,” she said. “I love to meet new people; it got me out of my comfort zone.”
The award for first runner-up for Mr. “For the Culture” went to Jaylin Heater. The title of Mr. “For the Culture” went to Avery Wells. He said his decision to compete was tied to his experience organizing pageants sponsored by his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma.
“Now, it’s just really fun being on the other side, to actually get up there and do it,” he said.
Moore said he encourages readers to look out for the other upcoming Black History Month events sponsored by ISEC and to follow its Instagram for more information.