Only a woman who has endured blister-covered feet, 25-hour days, rigorous training sessions and unforgiving public scrutiny can remember, for a lifetime, the lessons that pageantry teaches.
Contrary to popular belief, a glittery night ending in fancy gowns and the crown finally settling on a head isn’t all it takes to be queen. For weeks and months ahead of the event, contestants are moulded and shaped into pristine ambassadors, at the heart of which is dedication, hard work and commitment. The process is not only to compete for a crown but also to represent the country proudly, and to give back in practical ways.
That is exactly what the National Carnival Queen (NCQ) 2016 contestants displayed when they met with the STAR for an interview. It was the first time that the media invited them to talk about their experience after the fact, and for most of them it was surprising and exciting. Interestingly, there was so much more they had accomplished after the pageant, which shows that they are all queens in their own right.
Shartoya Jn Baptiste, Kaysia Verneuil, Bernella Velinor, Anna-Kim Williams, Kerline Sylvester and Racquel John are all beautiful, vibrant and filled with inspiring stories which they were happy to share with us. Six out of the eight contestants (Tyler Theophane, Miss Saint Lucia 2016, and Sheris Paul were unavailable) had one thing in common: they had inspired someone by their brave act to compete on a national stage. Young, aspiring pageant participants frequently send them messages seeking advice and tips. Some even look to them as mentors. Anna-Kim Williams reminisced attending a pageant because she just couldn’t let a little girl down after all the conversations they had leading up to it.
But, the most impressive attribute of the NCQ 2016 contestants is their constant and continuous effort to drive change in their communities. Although their sponsors initiated some of their work, many of them took up incentives on their own. Together, the eight young women hosted an empowerment activity on Women’s Day at the Castries Comprehensive Secondary School.
Shartoya and Racquel have made it their duty to go out to schools with the aim of inspiring young minds.
Shartoya was more focuesd on the aspects of dance and personal development. Her biggest challenge was mastering the art of public speaking during the 2016 pageant and now she uses the experience to motivate students, especially those who wish to become pageant queens. She has facilitated short but well planned workshops and activities at various secondary schools, and even managed to leave a painted mural at the Ave Maria Primary School.
Racquel has been working with children, focusing on the power of education. She has built a relationship with the Gros Islet Pre-school and Primary School where she hosts dance classes and reading sessions. She was also the guest speaker during reading month at Dame Pearlette Louisy Primary School and hosted sessions with Grade 6 students to provide them with tips for the big Common Entrance Exam.
Racquel and Shartoya teamed up at Christmas time to collect and provide a few families with needed food and school supplies, and Kaysia has since reached out in similar fashion. Using her profession of teaching, she aims to motivate students in a wholesome way; she helps her students with public speaking and learning how to respect themselves.
“I could already see ‘mini me’s!” she exclaimed. “They’re so vibrant and mimic everything I do.”
Both Kaysia and Bernella have projects in the works for their community. Kaysia is preparing to hopefully organize a Creole Pageant in Laborie next year in addition to her work with the South Rotaract Chapter. Bernella is exploring the idea of a Junior Ambassadors Project which will train youth in leadership qualities.
Since July 2, 2016 they have all travelled a long and enriching road and it doesn’t seem that they plan to come off track. Kerline made a comment with which they would all agree: “Currently I serve as a mentor to a number of teenagers. My aim is mainly to help and encourage the youth of Saint Lucia to overcome challenges, become successful and achieve their goals by developing a positive mind.”