“Ladybrille’s 15 Questions with . . .” is a feature that salutes some of the most important names in the fashion and entertainment industries around the globe, with a particular emphasis on Africa. We hope you are as inspired as we are with the brilliant men and women in these industries that make the world go round. Our feature today is with Lady Kate Njeuma, founder of the successful Miss Africa USA Pageant competition. Enjoy.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Describe your career. What exactly do you do?
Lady Kate: I think I can describe myself as a Community Activist. I am the CEO and Founder of the Miss Africa USA Scholarship Pageant and also the President of the African Women’s Development Foundation USA. The Pageant was founded on the basis of providing a platform for our young women in the United States of America to showcase their beauty, embrace their cultural identity and develop leadership skills through community service. I believe that young African girls growing up in America today often face conflicts and some level of identity crisis. A program such as the Miss Africa USA Pageant really takes them back to their roots and brings out that sense of pride in an African woman (that show they are) beautiful, ambitious, intelligent and very savvy. So each year I work with my small but committed team to produce the pageant which has become a great community event for Africa Diaspora, uniting all Africans in a grand celebration of our cultural heritage.
From Auditions to semi-finals to crowning the Queen each year, we come across a high caliber of African young women with a lot of potential, a lot of hope and dreams to be fulfilled. One thing is very common among all these young girls and that is, they are seriously thinking of ways to help Africa and draw attention to Africa. On the other hand they all want to portray a more positive image of Africa and not just focus on the negatives. I am very proud of all the girls who have come through the pageant over the years.
I really do wear many hats and as the President of AWDF USA (www.awdfusa.org) I organize medical missions to Africa. This involves mobilizing a team of Medical Doctors (who visit Africa to) treat patients, free of charge, and also help with medical equipment and supplies for hospitals and health centers in deprived area. These are just some of the things I get my hands into. Also, as a professional nurse, I stay busy and focused because it gives me great joy if I can put a smile on someone’s face because I made things better for them.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: That is a handful. How did you end up pursuing these multiple careers?
Lady Kate: I think it comes naturally to me being an activist because I grew up with my mother who was very dynamic and very involved in leading women’s groups; and rallying women together for great causes. She really inspired me and it was her dream to see me do some of the things she used to do at a different level. I did not go to school to learn to be an activist in my community, rather, there was always this burning desire in me, directing me to take on various projects and get involved in my community where ever I was.
It is amazing when you listen to that third voice in you, telling you that you can do this. I kind of began to believe in myself especially when I moved to the United States from England back in 2002. I immediately saw the opportunities that America has to offer and accepted the fact that everything is possible in America and that is what the American Dream is built on. I had ideas that could immediately turn into action, dreams that could be realized and I took a straight shot at it.
I remember watching Miss Universe Pageant, one day, and the thought came in my mind about organizing an African pageant, something more cultural where we can showcase our African heritage in America. I was thinking about sharing this cultural experience with our African-American brothers and sisters who may have lost that connection with their roots and figured that they would really appreciate it. When we did the very first pageant in Georgia in 2005, we had Americans in the audience and they came up to me after the show and expressed such great joy in witnessing a little bit of African culture, it meant a lot to them. Talking about our own African people, they were just so elated because the event was like an African Cup of Nations Soccer Game. People became so patriotic and rallied behind their own and were excited to see each delegate on stage proudly representing their countries. I immediately knew after the first pageant in 2005 that the pageant could grow and become a phenomenon, a movement and a platform for our girls to realize their dreams and also make a difference.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been the most difficult challenge you have faced in getting to where you are?
Lady Kate: I am a people person. I love being around people and I think one’s measure of wealth is not so much how much money you have but how much of a difference you can make and how many lives you can touch and bring hope and meaning to.
I think so far I have done very well given the circumstances. When you work with people, especially our own African people, it can be very challenging indeed. When I first started, some people thought I was a big joke and doubted my abilities and others thought I was embarking on something great but all along, only I could really understand my own vision and my dream for the pageant. It was very hard to explain to people and so I kept on moving forward. Friends suddenly became haters for no reason but I learned to sway away from negativity and continued to seek positive people and positive energy. I realized that people come at you from different angles and I just learned to be (a lot more) careful and to protect the pageant and keep on injecting the kind of positive spirit and vision to take it to higher heights each time.
I could also tell you that finance has been a huge problem because the pageant is a very costly production but each year we try to leverage the support of the community through sponsorship to support the pageant. It has been very tough lately given the current economic crisis but we have not ceased in our efforts to break new grounds. We hope that with God in control, all will be well.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How do you define success?
Lady Kate: To me Success is about staying focused and determined, even in times when everyone thinks you have failed. There is something in you which turns what others may deem as failure into a success story. Meaning that when you fall, you quickly stand up again and keep moving. If you can learn from your mistakes and rectify where you may have flawed you become a better and stronger person. Being patient with yourself knowing that “Rome was not built in a day,” gives you that inner strength and the drive to succeed.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You have had a very Pan-African message even though you are from Cameroon, with your pageant show. Why is it important for you to promote Africa rather than one country within Africa?
Lady Kate: I am Cameroonian by birth, by heart and believe me, I am very patriotic about my country of birth but on the other hand, I am a Pan-Africanist and a Globalist. I always try to look at the big picture in everything I do. I think that as Africans in the Diaspora, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot by letting our man-made and forcefully imposed geographical boundaries in Africa separate us.
There is so much need for us to unite and quit distinguishing ourselves from one another afterall our hosts do not even know our difference. Most people think Africa is one big country. We may keep our identities but as a community we need to have that Pan-Africanist view because there is power in our union as one people from one continent. My understanding is that we as Africans have failed consistently, generation after generation to make that union possible in the diaspora and we are really missing out a lot.
If you look at the Hispanic community, they are strong, they have a strong political voice in America and their opinions really matters as a people, whereas we Africans are lost in the census and our voices are buried. I am a strong advocate of Pan-Africanism and most of my work is within the African community and I feel comfortable when I meet people from different African countries. Having said the above, I am still a very patriotic Cameroonian-American and contribute to the development of Cameroon at home and abroad through some of my initiatives. I am happy that God has Blessed me with the gift of life and I have availed myself to be used by God to do the things He wants me to by serving my community. For that I am grateful.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Share with us your memory of the happiest moment in your life?
Lady Kate: I think I am living my happiest moments of my life right now and that is just watching my two children grow. Livita Njeuma my Son is 11 and my daughter, Embelle Njeuma is 8 and everyday l look at them and realize how blessed I am to be alive to see them grow. My Mom has added to the picture and she is here with me and my kids, indeed this is the best time of my life. I love my family and they mean everything to me. I say Thank you to God.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What keeps you awake at night?
Lady Kate: I am some kind of a workaholic and if I am working on a project and it is not complete, I do not sleep at night. (Laughs) I will worry about that until it is done. Sometimes, I could stay up working and get a brain freeze when I realize I am really not moving forward and cannot think, I am not being productive and would be so mad at myself and reluctantly go to bed.
Lady Kate: I would have to convince myself that going to bed is the best thing to do. I would be up earliest to get the job done the next morning. I love to get things done, that is just me. I take on a lot sometimes and I (c)hallenge myself because I believe it can be done and interestingly most things are doable.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you?
Lady Kate: I am driven by success, I am driven by the difference I have been able to make and the fact that I can do more. I really do believe that I have a purpose to fulfill in this life and that purpose goes even beyond my own family and immediate surrounding or environment. It gives me a great sense of fulfillment to see that a little project I initiated is doing to light up the world of so many young girls. I am always happy to know that by touching the lives of a handful of people, they have been able to touch hundreds more and made a huge difference all because I gave them that opportunity.
These are the kinds of things that drive me and I cannot give up because so many are looking up to me for inspiration while I am looking up to others. There is no stopping, one can only hope that God will keep the engine moving so that one can do even more. Whenever thoughts of stopping the pageant or a project comes across my mind, I simply look at some of the feedback and the life changing opportunities that have come about because I had a dream, I quickly turn those thoughts into strengths and reasons to continue.
Take for example, Miss Africa USA Fifi Soumah’s visit to Guinea this year where she renovated a village school as part of her project. She donated school supplies for children plus she provided bicycles for those children who could not walk the distance to school because it was too far away. Now that really touched my heart and I was moved to tears when she came back and shared her story. This is a success story for Miss Africa USA and a good reason why the Pageant must continue and another reason why Lady Kate and the Pageant team must continue to work hard.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What makes you get up everyday to do what you do all over again?
Lady Kate: . . . the positive things that come out of what I do makes me get up every morning (to do it) over again, hoping to get even better results each time.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are the daily principles you live by?
Lady Kate: For me life is very simple and we must not complicate it. I do not go to bed with a heavy heart. The last thing I do before I climb on my bed to sleep is to reflect on the day and dedicate my life to God and thank Him for the day and pray for the next. I have to do this every night and it really helps me.
Secondly, I learnt to let go of things unimportant and trivial. I have learned that life is so fragile and can slip away any time so I tend to focus on the important things in life and I have very little time to waste. I try to make sure that at any given time in my life I am being productive or creative, dormancy has no place in my life.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When all is said and done, what is the legacy you want to leave behind?
Lady Kate: It is a great honor for me to see that what I started as a hobby is fast becoming a movement. After all is said and done, I want Miss Africa USA to be a role model for young girls in the United States of America, representing beauty with brains and a humanitarian. The world should see African women not only as house wives and mothers, but as leaders in their own rights and I hope that these young women will one day serve their various nations at the highest level.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What inspires you?
Lady Kate: I am inspired by success and success stories. I read a lot of motivational books and a lot of biographies of successful people and that really inspires me.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Who is your favorite African designer?
Lady Kate: I think my favorite African Designer is Mustafa Hassanali. I like his designs very much even though I have never worn them but his concept is different and very glamorous.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What’s your favorite Cameroonian dish to eat?
Lady Kate: Wow! Cameroon is a country with lots and lots of mouth watering dishes and it is difficult for me to choose but I will settle any day for some Tima Na Mbusa (Cocoyam battons in Palmnut Stew). (Laughs) My mouth is watering already. . . (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What’s your favorite vacation spot?
Lady Kate: My favorite vacation spot is called Seme Beach and it is located in the city of Limbe, Cameroon. A beautiful and peaceful beach at the foot of the Mount Cameroon, it is so relaxing, it takes you very close to nature and you can basque in the sun all day and not feel the heat because you either jump inside the freezing water from the mountain or take a dive in the beautiful blue deep sea.
Watch Lady Kate’s Miss Africa USA Pageant
Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.