Psychology Major Bridges Heritage, Texas Life With 'Empowering' Message
|Psychology major Elizabeth Opara represents the liminality associated with her Nigerian heritage and her life as a first-generation Houstonian. As the Miss Face of Nigeria for the Face of Africa USA Pageant, Opara hopes to spread a message of empowerment and awareness of the African diaspora. —Photo courtesy of the Face of Africa USA Pageant|
Although thousands of miles apart, Elizabeth Opara is doing what she can to build bridges between Texas and Nigeria.
As part of the journey, Opara will compete in the Face of Africa USA Pageant July 13 in Arlington. The 21-year-old Sam Houston State University psychology major, as Miss Face of Nigeria 2013, will represent the West African country her parents are from.
Opara's platform combines two passions—the African diaspora (the migration or flight from Africa to another country) and the empowerment of women.
Opara is a first-generation Houstonian. After moving to America, Opara's mother Ijeoma became a lawyer who now owns a practice in Houston, and her father Anthony became a doctor at the Texas Medical Center.
Opara visits Nigeria approximately once a year, but she said her parents have instilled her with African-based values her entire life, such as keeping a respectful nature and maintaining integrity. This, combined with an American upbringing, sometimes leaves Opara feeling like she has a foot in each world without a bridge to connect her.
"The problem I see in the African community with Nigerians like myself is that here, in America, we're seen as foreigners because we act different, but I'm seen as a foreigner in Nigeria as well because I don't have the accent or speak the language fluently," Opara said. "I want to bridge the gap created by the diaspora."
To do so, Opara envisions a Houston school for African children—run by volunteers—that will teach native languages, traditions and culture. Funds raised from these classes would then be donated to an organization that frees women in Nigeria from a life of prostitution.
The organization, Insurmountable Women, of which Opara's mother is a member, teaches Nigerian women trades such as sewing or hairdressing, along with the skills necessary to establish their own businesses.
|Opara carries her mother's words, "as long as you know where you are going, the world will make a path for you," with her as she works to blaze her own trail as a future lawyer. —Photo by Brian Blalock|
While the empowerment of women is part of Opara's Face of Africa platform, it's also a passion she believes in closer to home.
Opara recently helped launch 1520°, an SHSU organization that teaches women of all ethnicities proper networking, business and communication skills. Opara said the organization will be up and running this fall, the beginning of her senior year.
Opara said she chose to attend SHSU because it's "small enough to feel like home" yet "far enough from home" to spread her wings.
The future lawyer had quite the reign as president of the African Student Association last year, earning it the 2012 "Outstanding Cultural Organization" Sammy Award.
One of the reasons behind the win was the association's first official African Student Association Weekend, which brought together eight African Student Association chapters from across the state. They all performed in a cultural showcase, participated in competitive sports and listened to lectures about becoming a leader in the African community.
Brandon Cooper, SHSU associate director of Student Activities, said the event was hugely successful and a definite feather in Opara's cap.
"She's always positive and outgoing, and I would say the picture of the ideal Bearkat," Cooper said. "We're very proud of her. One of my favorite things about my job is seeing students succeed while they're here, and then watch them continue to evolve off campus."
Students, staff, faculty, family and friends will surely be watching when Opara heads to Arlington.
On pageant day, female finalists will be judged on African attire, talent, swim wear, evening gown and on-stage Q/A.
Opara's African attire will be traditional village clothing that represents Imo state in Nigeria, and for the talent portion, Opara will focus on African folklore "storytelling" with a visual twist.
The day before the competition, contestants will be judged on a two to three-minute presentation of their platforms. That score will then be added to the total score.
The pageant is also open to males, who will be judged on African attire, talent, fitness, formal suit and on-stage Q/A. The current king, Mr. Face of South Sudan 2012 Michael Mabor Majok, is a student at the University of North Texas. The current queen, Miss Face of Ghana 2012 Emma Van Lare, is a student at the University of Texas-Austin.
Pageant contestants must be between 18-28 years of age, able to represent their parents' or grandparents' African country, and be enrolled in college, university, technical or trade school.
If Opara is crowned the queen of Face of Africa USA, she will have the opportunity to host the GIAMA Awards in Washington, D.C., described as the "Oscars for Africa" with red-carpet appearances from African actors and actresses.
If Opara doesn't win the title, she's OK with that too.
"Africa is very diverse, so just to come together with all of these people from my continent is a blessing in itself," she said.
Either way, Opara will continue on her mission of building bridges and empowering women. Even though Opara's mother tells her "as long as you know where you are going, the world will make a path for you," Opara isn't one to wait around. She will blaze her own trails, one step at a time.
"Things don't have to be so extravagant that they take years to accomplish," Opara said. "As long as you continue to fight for whatever you believe in, change can happen."
For more information on Opara's journey as Miss Face of Nigeria 2013 or her platform, visit her website here.
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