College seniors Oluwatobi Abegunde (left) and Oluwatosin Bosede (right) host Penn African Students Association’s annual gala and the first ever Mr. and Miss PASA pageant. The gala marks the end of PASA’s Africa Fest Week.

Credit: Renata Siruckova / The Daily Pennsylvanian

A king and queen proudly walked the aisle at Bodek Lounge after a night of African food, music and dance Friday night. This year, the Penn African Student Association assembled in Houston Hall for a semi-formal gala to mark the end of a week-long festival and featured the first ever Mr. and Ms. PASA Pageant.

In culmination of Africa Fest Week, Penn students gathered to promote African culture and raise awareness about their activities on campus. The event showcased several performers, including Penn a capella group PAPA and Rafiya’s African soul band from Philadelphia.

“It’s a great opportunity for African students to embrace their identities and for other students to get a taste of what African culture is like,” co-social chair of PASA and College junior Ayobami Ajayi said.

The pageant required its six contestants to demonstrate their talents, answer questions and model African clothing in front of the audience.

“It’s definitely a bonding experience for me, giving me a chance to interact with people with similar interests and to reflect on my Nigerian background,” College sophomore Ibi Etomi said.

For College freshman Julia Shin, however, the gala introduced her to a new culture. “I’m excited to taste the food and partake in African traditions that I don’t know much about,” she said.

The judges looked for poise, elegance and charisma in the Mr. and Ms. PASA contestants, explained College freshman and judge Shenaille Beckley. The participants could be from anywhere in Africa and had to demonstrate their creativity through their performances.

After deliberation among the judges, College sophomore Dau Jok and College freshman and Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer Diana Gonimah were crowned Mr. and Ms. PASA of 2012.

Jok, a Sudan native, was named most talented and best dressed. He also received the viewer’s choice award, making him the only contestant to win all three titles.

As his talent, he performed a cultural dance to a self-made soundtrack of ethnic African songs and contemporary American rap and hip-hop pieces. “It felt great to know I was able to present a little bit of my culture. Last night was a celebration of all the incredible cultures that make Africa our motherland,” Jok said.

Gonimah, who represented Egypt, said she “was blessed to be able to represent North Africa, especially in a time of turmoil and conflict.”

Gonimah sang two songs, one in English and one in Arabic, which captured her singing ability as well as her Egyptian identity.

“Even though many African countries today are poverty-stricken and face a wide range of struggles, we still have some of the most beautiful and unique cultures in the world,” Gonimah said. “All of yesterday’s performers and contestants showed the audience what each of their respective countries could bring to the table.”

College freshman Meron Zeru received the title of women’s best dressed, and Wharton freshman Idy Akpan received the women’s viewer’s choice award. All participants received a thank-you card, and Mr. and Ms. PASA were given $50 as a gift.

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