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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

HASA hosts Peach Pageant to unite and celebrate the Black diaspora

Contestants compete in a cultural extravaganza to raise funds for Haitian causes
Kalina Kornacki
Sarojini Torchon (representing Haiti) shows off the low dip in her dress on the red carpet at the HASA Peach Pageant: Across the Diaspora at the Student Union Ballroom on 02/10/2024.

Captivated by the lively money dance, the crowd cheered as Nigerian and Ghanaian Peach Pageant contestants were showered with bills by their entourage. The money dance, a West African wedding tradition, is a gesture of support and good fortune for newlyweds. An exhilarating rush filled the air as audiences cheered along, chanting jubilantly as if they were celebrating in Lagos or Accra. Peach Pageant co-host Elijah Fortune, a senior communication and criminology major, captured the essence of the event. “It’s like I took a trip to many different countries,” Fortune said.

On Saturday, Feb. 10, at the University of Massachusetts, the Haitian American Student Association and UMass Fashion Organization hosted a vibrant pageant celebrating cultures across the Black diaspora to fundraise for the Haitian Health Foundation. The pageant is named after a charitable subset of HASA, Progressive Efforts for Advancement & Change in Haiti, known as UMass Peach.

Senior psychology and public health major Naicha “Nai” Christophe, HASA president, passionately spoke about Haiti’s legacy as the first liberated sovereign Black nation and its resilient people. “Since the revolution, Haiti has been exploited, vandalized and destroyed,” Christophe said.

With a 7.0 magnitude, the 2010 earthquake can be described as having “… an energy equivalent to around 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs,” according to Renato Solidum, the director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Over 220,000 Haitians were killed in the earthquake.

Haiti has not recovered from the earthquake and continues to face foreign interventions, political instability, social unrest and other natural disasters.

According to Christophe, the Peach Pageant proceeds will support HHF staff in providing healthcare and aid for over 250,000 Haitians who rely on the foundation for life-saving care. According to its website, donations to HHF provide at least 900 food kits per month, have constructed 4,000 homes and have distributed 1,200 goats, enabling families to generate a small income.

Senior operations and information management major Kofi Asibey co-hosted with Fortune. Both men facilitated the event with humor and charm. The pageant had four segments: evening wear, personality test, cultural representation and the interview.

The list below shows the 10 represented countries in the pageant and the 13 contestants who participated:


  • Shawn Osunde, a senior chemical engineering major
  • Stephanie Ogbemudia, a senior public and health sciences major
  • Amazing Onwuchekwa, a senior economics major


  • Reggie Glover, a sophomore engineering major
  • Nana Asamoah, a senior legal studies major who is also in the bachelor’s degree with an individualized concentration program


  • Marda Atsebha, a freshman in biomedical engineering and political science major

Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Leila L. Imani, a senior biology major and Spanish minor


  • Rosanna Njubi, a sophomore engineering major


  • Maab Marei, a sophomore BDIC major

Cape Verde

  • Kayla S. Monteiro, a junior chemical engineering major

USA (Black America)

  • Mickala Stratton, a sophomore biochemistry & molecular biology major

Puerto Rico

  • Ceonni-Neveah, a sophomore veterinary science and acting major


  • Sarojini Torchon, a junior computer science & mathematics major

Peach Pageant judge Shawn Samuels, a senior academic advisor in the UMass political science department said, “I am looking for contestants who proudly represent their culture authentically.”

When the evening wear segment began, the audience turned their eyes toward the entrance as the first contestant made their grand debut. Osunde, clad in an all-red ensemble, strode in with impeccable posture, commanding the room with an aura of bravado as he graciously shook hands with the judges. Imani graced the stage like a vision in her ethereal silk lilac dress. Marei was a beacon of enchantment in her black gown adorned with glittering sequins. Neveah brought a touch of fairy tale magic to the runway in her enchanting baby blue tulle dress that billowed around her like a cloud.

From playful winks to fierce strides, the contestants infused their evening wear walks with joy and spontaneity.

After the glitz and glamour of the evening wear segment, contestants delivered sorrowful speeches about the struggles in their respective countries.

Atsebha addressed the Tigray genocide, shedding light on the millions subjected to ethnic cleansing. She painted a grim picture of the atrocities faced by the Tigray people: rapes, gas chambers, concentration camps and communications restrictions imposed by the Ethiopian government. When asked what she wished for in the personality test segment, Atsebha said, “For her family to finally be at rest.”

Marei spoke about the Darfur genocide in Sudan. According to NPR, the government and allied militias are targeting non-Arab ethnic groups, leading to thousands of deaths and widespread displacement.

Maab Marei speaks to the crowd regarding the genocide and destruction of Sudan at the HASA Peach Pageant: Across the Diaspora at the Student Union Ballroom on 02/10/2024.

“We are not free until we are all free,” Bedphiny Deng, a senior biology major and African Student Association president, said. The stage became a platform for voices of resilience as solidarity speeches emphasized the importance of standing together in the fight for justice.

Audiences gained deeper insights into contestants’ passions and dreams during the personality test segment, where they answered questions posed by the hosts. Monteiro excitedly exclaimed that the strong women in Cape Verde, from her family to the government, are her biggest inspirations. Imani shared how she desires to mentor young Black women in STEM who are often “ignored and underestimated.”

Leila Imani (representing the Democratic Republic of Congo) poses for the crowd at the HASA Peach Pageant: Across the Diaspora at the Student Union Ballroom on 02/10/2024.

Ogbemudia, reflecting on her experience as a dark-skinned Black woman, highlighted the discriminatory nature of beauty in society. She emphasized that true beauty comes from within oneself.

The event was a moment of pure delight and camaraderie, where the diverse backgrounds across the diaspora celebrated unity and belonging.

The runway became a stage for audience members to strut confidently. Each ensemble was a masterpiece of self-expression, from towering platform boots to flowing ruffled white dresses. Senior finance major and R&B singer Nyley Moise enchanted the audience with her velvety tone and smooth delivery while singing her original song “Personal” and a rendition of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” famously covered by Lauryn Hill. The festivities continued with the crowd joining in on popular R&B tracks by Muni Long and Afrobeats hits by Burna Boy.

Contestants burst back into the room, each vibrant embodiment of their rich cultural heritage. Bedecked in their national flags, they infused the space with the essence of their homelands. The atmosphere crackled with anticipation as the music swelled and traditional dances took center stage. Glover and Asamoah captivated the audience with their vibrant renditions of the money dance. They were accompanied by six backup dancers whose movements were as fluid as rippling waves, adding energy and excitement to the performance. Multiple beat drops electrified the atmosphere, amplifying the audience’s enthusiasm.

Monteiro and her Cape Verdean troupe stole hearts with their synchronized traditional dance routine, pulsating with infectious rhythm and energy. At the beginning of the extravagant entrance celebration, Monteiro and her crew gave the judges brown packages, their contents a compelling mystery.

The HASA dance team kept an energetic and upbeat atmosphere with a performance of a Haitian dance called “kompa,” a blend of rhythmic hip movements and intricate footwork.

Before announcing the winners, an intermission featured the hosts revealing the lucky recipients of two giveaways: Skims clothing and a $600 scooter. The audience voted, and the judges deliberated and selected the top three contestants. Asamoah placed third and Imani was the runner-up.

Monteiro, who represented Cape Verde, emerged as the victor, her triumph celebrated by all in attendance. Her friends and family erupted into elated cheers, jumping up and down with excitement, their voices echoing loud and clear in enthusiastic support of her win.

Kayla Monteiro (representing Cape Verde), the winner of the pageant, smiles to the crowd at the HASA Peach Pageant: Across the Diaspora at the Student Union Ballroom on 02/10/2024. (Kalina Kornacki)

The mission of the pageant, to raise funds for the HHF, remained at the forefront, with the night beginning and ending with the beautiful sounds of Haitian kompa music—a poignant tribute to Haiti’s pivotal role in the journey towards Black freedom and a vibrant celebration of the diaspora.

Samourra Rene can be reached at [email protected].

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