The Second Annual Beauty of Africa Gala is only a few months away on June 10th in Calgary ! We will be crowning a new Canada’s Miss Beauty of Africa on that day so we figured it’s a great time to catch up with our current Queen! She allowed us to disturb her very busy schedule to answer a few questions that will hopefully give us some insight into the mind of a brilliant and amazing young African woman living in North America today. Mirabelle represents thousands of beautiful, intelligent and hardworking young African women and hopefully her story will inspire many of them to come forward and be proud to represent their countries of origin in an amazing light. Anyone who was there at last years Canada’s Miss Beauty of Africa event can testify that this young lady is going places and is definitely making Africa as a whole proud! Read what she has to say about her goals and successes below!
- Where were you born and raised?
That’s always been a complicated question for me. I was born in Queens, New York, then lived in Lagos, Nigeria and then moved to Eastern Canada, Windsor, a couple days before my sixth birthday. Eventually we moved from Windsor to Calgary. It’s interesting—my first memories are of Nigeria, of sitting in my grandfather’s lap, eba and okra soup, skinning my knee in my school uniform. I am American, Canadian, and Nigerian in citizenship and home and I am grateful to all three countries, but Nigeria will always be the land of my ancestors. Shout out to Awka and Nnewi, my ancestral lands—and Port Harcourt and Enugu and the people those cities birthed,my parents.
- What are you studying at the moment?
I’m studying Business at the University of Calgary with a minor in English. University has been a great experience so far, I’m in my second year and have already met a lot of amazing people and learned a lot of life lessons. I plan on going to law school directly after my undergrad and becoming a corporate or immigration lawyer.
- What do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Sleeping. No, I’m kidding…but lowkey sleeping is lit. Honestly, though, reading, writing, singing, volunteering, designing, web browsing, television watching, eating—and on, and on really. I’m also constantly working on some personal projects, and a few of them have been in the making for years. There’s so much that I want to do and I’m trying to get into the habit of setting deadlines or else I’ll keep tweaking and perfecting and fixing forever. I plan to launch a graphic design firm this fall; tie up a novel I’ve been working on for 3 years and get it published; release some music I’ve been recording; finally finish Americanah and Wizard of the Crow; and continue helping younger students with public speaking. There’s more, the list is endless. When I was 12 I started dreading birthdays because I’d finally realized the earth did not owe me eternity. Time here is minute. And time is money, smiles, change, hope, everything. It’s easy to forget this, especially from a place of indecisiveness or nervousness. I was reading this old interview with Frank Ocean and he said, “Vanish the fear.” Vanish it. There’s so much more in life to be experienced than to be feared. I’d rather spend my time experiencing than fearing.
- How does it feel like to be the first Miss Beauty of Africa Canada?
I feel…proud. Honoured. Exhilarated. All my life, I’ve been immensely proud to be an African. Growing up, some of my peers would say things like, “Don’t you Africans live in huts?” and, “Eat your food, some starving child in the country of Africa would be blessed to eat that.” Okay, maybe that last one was paraphrased, but I have met adults and children alike who truly referred to Africa as a country. In Junior High one of my teachers, upon hearing I was visiting Nigeria with my family, asked me: Why? Isn’t the government a dictatorship? Where will you live? Aren’t there loads of murders and political instability? Like, violent uprisings, you know? In Grade 12, a classmate stated that over 50% of the women in Nigeria get married under the age of 12—and of course I called him out immediately! How sway? These disturbing perceptions only invigorated my desire to dispel stereotypes about Africa and simultaneously work towards bettering life for Africans by bettering Africa. Being Miss Beauty of Africa Canada has been the most perfect blessing. This crown has given me a bigger platform to advocate for changes in my community and world. I feel blessed.
- What are you and the organization working on for the next year and what can people do to help?
Right now, a lot is going on and there is a lot of help needed. Beauty of Africa is still collecting and distributing school supplies—notebooks, pens, school bags, pencils, art materials, books. Those school supplies that are lying dormant in our basements collecting dust are difficult to afford for students living in poverty. Beauty of Africa has a goal this year of filling 5000 school bags and distributing them during a mission trip to some of the poorest regions in southern Africa.
The Educate a Girl Campaign is what most attracted me to Beauty of Africa in the first place. In any poverty or war-stricken location, women and, in particular, girl-children often take the brunt of the mayhem whether that means being raped, leaving school early to take care of siblings or not going to school at all or being married off for a bride price. I strongly believe that education elevates. Subsidizing education for these girls living in extreme poverty can help to curb what so many of them believe is their inevitable fate: no education and child marriage. Promoting academic excellence amongst this demographic promotes financial scholarship which, thusly, promotes post-secondary opportunities, and, eventually, uplifts the entire community. Why? There is an African proverb that states, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.” As birthers and historical caregivers, which has been the case for the majority of women from the dawn of humanity, acknowledging the value of an educated female in the same way the value of an educated male is acknowledged can significantly and positively influence entire families. Giving women equal access to education is essential in promoting literacy in all demographics within a society.
To whoever is reading this, I implore you to please consider donating time, supplies, or money towards this important cause.
- Tell us more about the cause you shared with us at the Gala, what actions are you taking towards helping the Boko Haram victims and what support can the community give you?
3 years ago, I was standing in front of city hall, holding up a large poster, amidst a large group of Nigerian ladies and men chanting, “Bring Back Our Girls.” Now and then someone would sing, “All we are saying,” and everyone else would sing back, “Bring Back Our Girls.” A month previous, I had been watching CNN and heard about the Chibok girls. 219 girls went to school to simply learn and, instead, were kidnapped by members of Boko Haram, a religious extremist group. Terrorist groups like these want to divide communities based on age, gender, religion. My platform is based on unification, because I want to actively combat the divisive nature of terrorist groups such as the Boko Haram and aid the people most affected by their actions—specifically the African refugee and girl child.
People can’t act on something unless they know about it. Like, look at the Syrian refugee crisis—immensely important and compassionate movements have been born out of the Syrian refugee crisis, movements that have given a voice to so many voiceless people, because so many people knew about it. Tantamount to that, people had to care enough to enact change. This inspires me to continue to do raise awareness for African refugees. The Canadian government has compassionately committed over a billion dollars to aiding Syrian refugees. When I looked through the various budgets, I did not find any relevantly or similarly significant amounts committed to the various groups of victims of horrific wars unfolding in several countries in Africa. I’m not trying to compare tragedies, I’m inspired by the success of the movements that pledged to make change for those in need and followed through. It can’t be enough to share #BringBackOurGirls on social media. We need to petition our governments, write to non-profits, raise money, send resources and do more always to aid victims. #BringBackOurGirls may have raised awareness, but it didn’t follow through as effectively as it could have. More than anything, I want to continue to do my bit to follow through. During the pageant I said that I did not want the crown for me. I wanted it for Africa, and I still do. Every child should be given the opportunity to learn, and to grow up in a safe environment, no matter where they come from, what the color of their skin is. Pushing this platform, and this change is me putting myself out there, and in doing so, I want to encourage young girls and boys in my community to put themselves out there. Unity is a together thing, we have to push for it together, and it will benefit all of us.
- What advice can you give to the Miss Beauty of Africa 2017 contestants?
Your platform trumps your pretty. Every time. Every girl on that stage is going to be beautiful. A lot of people think pageants are about your pretty and your prance. After learning more about the Miss Beauty of Africa pageant and getting advice from Beauty Queen Manka Nadine during group rehearsals, I realized that pageants were truly about your platform and your poise. My advice is: develop a platform on something that you really care about, something close to home or heart. You have to genuinely believe in it, because people can see through superficiality.
While getting dressed up or having pictures taken of your outfits isn’t enough reason to enter the pageant, you can’t forget about internal and external beauty. As outfits and makeup and hair and speeches and walks go, put effort and originality into all of the above. In any competition, the goal is to stand out in as best a way as possible. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but do try your best—try not to choose your looks last minute. Try out all of your looks before the competition and get a feeling of how you want to present yourself on stage…a feeling, not a knowing, it can be easy to regurgitate and feel and sound robotic.
Also, have a good support system. My community came out in droves to support me—my mom took days off work to help me find particular outfits, encouraged me to be confident and prepared to discuss my views and share my passion for my platform. My Aunty Phina lent me dresses, jewelry, priceless advice and anecdotes, my dad drove me to rehearsals. On the day of the pagent, I had my Aunty Phina’s daughters doing my makeup and photographing me, my sister, Ifeatu, applying lotion to my legs, my Aunty Glamour doing my hair and dressing me in an Edo State cultural outfit, my Aunty Jane helped with putting on my jewelry and counting down until I had to be on stage, my brother, Ben, and sister videotaping whenever I came on and all over the world, family members praying for me. This. All of this is irreplaceable and undeniably essential. Let yourself be doted on, no matter how selfish you may feel—allow your community to be your support system.
- Do you keep in touch with any of the contestants from the Miss Beauty of Africa Pageant 2016?
Mm, with busy schedules, not as much as I had hoped to be honest. I do keep in touch with some here and there—especially Beth and Natasha since we’ve been discussing what we wanted the year to entail. I’ve also talked a bit with Madelene about her aspirations regarding dental work for those that can’t afford it which was a brilliant part of her platform. All of the girls I met during the competition were excellent in every way—driven, empathetic, beautiful, and caring. Hopefully we can all meet again soon, it was great getting to know them and hearing about their platforms and what they think is important and what changes they want to make in our community and the world at large.
- What change would you like to see in your African community this year?
I’d like to see more unity. It’s all about unity. In high school, I got into public speaking, it’s an art to me—I joined speech club, went to competitions, and all those experiences would eventually help me write and deliver my valedictory address. One of my favorite public speakers then and now was Barack Obama. I remember watching one of his speeches and he said something like, “There is no red America, no blue America—there is the United States of America,” and I said, “Damn.” A phrase so simple, but so impactful. And it was everything, you know—the words he said, the way he said those words, the pauses he took…the message. He got the message out. We as an African community need to unify across all countries, colours of skin, religions, to speak up for ourselves and our continent. That’s my message. I’m not down for pitting ourselves against each other—claiming #lightskin or #darkskin as a means of superiority, or putting down kinkier hair textures or pushing hypermasculinity as the only legitimate way a black man can be a black man, or referring to black women as ratchet or ghetto for wearing weaves. That stuff pains me. I’m not about that at all…and when I preach about unity, I’m not saying that our differences should be ignored—on the contrary, they should be celebrated. I’m saying that we shouldn’t use our differences to divide our community. That’s the reason fighting against terrorism is such a vital part of my platform. Terror groups are set on propagating division, widening the gaps and the cracks in our communities. We need to seal those up by uplifting our fellow Africans, promoting excellence and fighting for what is right.
- What advice would you give to immigrants or children of Immigrants living in Canada?
As a Nigerian and American and Canadian living in Canada, I have never been forced to pick and choose. My advice: DO NOT let anyone tell you that you need to reject your ethnic culture in order to become a true Canadian. Canada is a country of immigrants, and this diversity is our strength. Don’t think that you need to forget or reject where you came from. My parents immigrated to Canada from Nigeria but my parents left behind family, friends, careers, the land of their ancestors. I will never forget that. Nigeria is my home just as much as Canada and the US is, and that is not a bad thing, at all.
Another piece of advice I would give is to volunteer. Volunteerism is such a great way to give back to your community. I do a lot of volunteer work with the Nigerian Canadian Association of Calgary and Canadian Blood Services. One encourages me to embrace my culture and remember my family and friends back in Nigeria, and the other educates me on the value of blood donations in saving lives. Volunteer with organizations you are proud of, that do things you support, and encourage your friends and family to join, too. There are so many negative stereotypes regarding Africans, and one of the many ways to disenfranchise such ugly notions in a way that feels genuinely good is to Volunteer: serve soup at a Drop-In Centre; join your church choir; teach kids how to read at the public library; show up early at cultural events to set up chairs and tables; cuddle addicted babies at the Foothills hospital; etc; etc; …the list is eternally endless.
Ah, also: never stop learning.
Mirabelle Chiderah Harris-Eze is an 18-year old graphic designer, award-winning writer, R&B singer, public speaker and Business student based in Calgary, AB. She is the winner of the 1st Annual Beauty of Africa Canada Pageant 2016. Her favorite meal consists of jollof rice, a well seasoned chicken thigh, and Earl Grey tea. Sometime in the near future, she wishes to publish a book written entirely in the language of her ancestors, Igbo. You can catch her on Facebook and Instagram @mirabelleharriseze and also check her out on SoundCloud and Tumblr @mirambe. Dalu!
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Photos by KofiHugo in Calgary Facebook.com/Kofihugo, and @Kofihugo on Instagram
Makeup by @theobsessedmua in Calgary
Fashion Designer Shirley Yamoah @nanaafiadesigns