School teacher Gabrielle Cummings is Miss Emancipation 2018

East Ruimveldt Secondary School teacher Gabrielle Cummings edged out seven other beauties to walk away with the Miss Emancipation crown last Saturday evening and while she is strong on pageants the new queen said she would only participate in those that allow her to remain authentic to who she really is.

And while it was a pageant and she won a crown, for the new queen, learning about her history was the most inspiring experience of the process.

Gabrielle Cumming

Almost a week after the crown was placed on her head, Gabrielle was still in awe that she actually won but she told The Scene that she behaved like the queen even before it became a reality.

Gabrielle and Colleen embracing each other upon Gabrielle being announced as queen.

“… I made myself a front runner. I ensured I was at every event and that at these events I met new people, informed them on the pageant and all in all promoted myself as a front runner. You are treated how you treat yourself. So, I behaved like I was already crowned queen and now here I am,” she said when asked if she felt she was a front-runner.

In the run up to coronation night, she said, “We had ancient ology classes that helped us in finding ourselves as proud black women which we all enjoyed. Sometimes our one-hour classes would [run] on for two or three hours with all our discussions because we enjoyed each other’s company. The actual training for our routines was fun because we were facilitated by the Miss Emancipation 2016 queen, Delisha Wright who made it fun for us rather than a stiff and rigorous training.”

Gabrielle seated third from left with the group of delegates before they made their appearance in the introductory segment.

And though she won the project presentation category, Gabrielle deemed it the most challenging. During the training there were times when the robot worked according to colour but not always and she wasn’t sure what to expect the night of the pageant. However, it turned out to be a spectacular success.

She said that all the other ladies posed a threat because they all had their strengths and weaknesses and they all fought tooth and nail to the end. However, the experience has fostered a sisterly bond among them, which she acknowledged is more important than anything else.

“I’ve gained more knowledge about who black people were before slavery, the part of history that is not taught in schools,” she added.

Asked whether she would participate in any upcoming pageants, the teacher noted that if the pageant teaches self-love, allows her to participate just as she is and does not require her to look a certain way, then and only then will she consider participating. The former St Stanislaus College student participated with her mother in the Senior Category of the Mother and Daughter Pageant in 2014 and finished third. Gabrielle had also entered the Miss Guyana Talented Teen Pageant but was unable to finish as she was preparing to write her CAPE exams at the Bishops High.

“As a queen and woman, I want everyone to know that I am comfortable being me…. It means that I have to set an example to my young and brilliant students who might believe that their dark skin is ugly and that they only way they would look presentable in the work place is by manipulating their hair to imitate that of another [culture that] isn’t perfect either,” she said.

Gabrielle said she was always on the chubbier side and is dark in complexion and even the darkest shade of makeup brand would come out light on her face. She added that she had always struggled with her complexion and weight and long before starting secondary school, she had watched movies surrounding high school drama and had picked up that when a person acts insecure people tend to pick on them even more, so she pretended she wasn’t bothered by any of it but no amount of movies could prepare her for life in secondary school.

It took her a long time to be comfortable in her own skin. It was her best friend, she said, who sat her down and told her that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her. He went as far to make her pick out women she considered perfect then show her the similarities she shared with them. From that day forward, she noted, she looked at herself through new eyes and even uses his technique on her students when they don’t feel confident about themselves.

For the next year the new queen plans on joining hands with contestants and past queens on educating African children specifically on Africans before slavery and helping them to love themselves and be comfortable in who they are. Her goal this year is to teach 1,000 students.

Gabrielle who hails from Plaisance has spent the last decade of her life living in Wortmanville. She teaches English Language, Literature and History and plans to further her studies in teaching next September. Her aim is to become the principal of a school by the time she is 29 years old.

The pageant

Gabrielle was crowned just 15 minutes shy of midnight at the National Cultural Centre following hours of entertainment for those in attendance.

The pageant which began a few minutes after the scheduled eight o’clock hour opened with the introduction category where each contestant introduced herself in spoken-word form. Miss Emancipation 2016 and songbird Delisha Wright did a spoken word piece she created when she participated. Her piece surrounded 2015-2024 being declared International Decade for People of African Descent. However, getting through it was a bit of a challenge for the former queen who lost her mother sometime last year.

The evening continued with business wear and the project presentation segment, which saw the ladies arriving onstage with their robots. The women were trained via Skype by US-based Robotic Engineer Terrence Southern.

The contestants were trained in coding the robot and took turns doing this for the judges who questioned them on the knowledge they would have gained during their training experience. The winner of the project presentation automatically made it into the top four and Gabrielle ran away with this category.

The evening gown segment followed, and it was noted by National Director Melissa Varswyk that the contestants would have come up with all of the designs they wore or most of it. The question and answer segment came after this with them being questioned by the judges based on what they would have learnt at the lectures given by Dr Norman Ng-A-Qui of Cuffy 250 Committee in the few months running up to the pageant. This was a bit of a challenge for the contestants, but they pulled through. Once this segment ended, last year’s queen Amaniah Cort took her final walk.

Making the top four with Gabrielle were Colleen Bovell, Feliciann Elliot and Shelisa Depradine. The scores which would have been compounded up until then were wiped clean and each contestant was given another chance at winning by answering the final question. Gabrielle’s question read: “Caricom nations have recognized this as the International Decade for People of African Descent. One of the focal points is reparation. What are your views on reparation?” Gabrielle responded, “When it comes to reparation I know the first thing that many people ask is do we as black people deserve it? and I will agree and say yes we do deserve reparation. What will we do with the reparation? I will suggest that they open schools and keep courses that will educate our young people more about who they were before slavery. We will use the reparation money as a form of building back our African youths. We’re building back the culture that they broke, we’re building back our nation.” While Feliciann and Shelisa supported reparation, Colleen opposed it.

Gabrielle still scored the highest at 340 with Colleen at 315, Feliciann 302 and Shelisa 280.5.

The winners of the awards were: Best Introduction (Colleen), Best Project (Gabrielle), Best Evening Wear (Gabrielle and Feliciann), Best in the Question and Answer Segment (Colleen) and taking the spot for the People’s Choice Award was Colleen coming in with 4,000 plus votes.

The other contestants were Patrina Cummings, Tandika Moore and Sithendisi Cameron. Each contestant received a $350,000 grant from Karis Monroe of Fabulous Home International towards building their own homes. The queen received a cash prize of $100,000. Those winning awards received trophies while the top four received bouquets.

The emcee was Mondale Smith and judges were: Stacey Mollison (CEO of Libra Management, Atlanta. Georgia), Joy Agness (Executive Director of Joy Agness Events, Florida), Lance Mars (Director – GWI), Dr Karis Munroe (CEO of Fabulous Homes International) and Tomika Boatswain (Director of Culture, Ministry of Education).

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