Jeyda Muhammad crowned as 41st Miss Unity

 Jeyda Muhammad, the winner of this year’s Miss Unity Scholarship Pageant, sits on the decorative throne between Rae-Ann Steele (left) and Cathryn Paul (right) for a series of posed portraits at the Hoff Theater in College Park, Md. on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (Alexandra Glover/The Black Explosion)

Jeyda Muhammad, the winner of this year’s Miss Unity Scholarship Pageant, sits on the decorative throne between Rae-Ann Steele (left) and Cathryn Paul (right) for a series of posed portraits at the Hoff Theater in College Park, Md. on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (Alexandra Glover/The Black Explosion)

“Alright, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The winner of the 2018 to 2019 Miss Unity Pageant is … contestant number nine! Congratulations, Jeyda!”

The silently waiting crowd exploded into a frenzied chorus of shouting and applause as Jeyda Muhammad waltzed forward eagerly and received her flowers, sash and tiara from the previous Miss Unity at the conclusion of the Miss Unity Scholarship Pageant on Nov. 11 in the Hoff Theater at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The annual spectacle, which was themed “As I Am” this year, was hosted by Cathryn Paul, the 2013-2014 Miss Unity, and Rae-Ann Steele, the 2016-2017 Miss Unity.

“The Miss Unity Scholarship Pageant is a leadership platform designed for college women to give voice to the issues of social justice and empowerment,” Steele said. “That combines the unification of diverse populations on campus and in the broader community. We affirm that knowledge, coupled with wisdom and poise, lends itself to the cultivation of fruitful strides toward progress.”

Muhammad, a 17-year-old freshman architecture major, held the daunting position of being the youngest contestant to vie for the honorary appellation as the 41st Miss Unity, competing against multiple women who possessed three to six additional years of life experience.

Her fellow contenders for the crown were Sanna Ishaq, a senior public health science major; Monique Wingo, a senior journalism and theatre double major; Fatima Doumbouya, a senior government and politics major; Ferddy Gèdèon, a junior psychology major; Jasmine Boyd, a senior journalism major; Donatella Aho, a freshman public health science major; Alma Figueroa, a freshman animal science major; and Priscille Diwa, a junior communication major.

The nine ladies encountered several opportunities to earn a maximum total of 100 points, based on the following categories: participation, introduction and platform, best talent, evening gown and poise, question and answer, pageant booster and Miss Congeniality.

Many of the evening gowns flourished with glitter and sparkles from the neckline to the hemline, but Wingo’s soft-lavender dress with its long, full skirt of rose-shaped material caught the eyes of the audience as being one of the most unique ensembles of the night.

During the question and answer segment of the competition, Doumbouya impressed the listening spectators by capping off her articulate response with an African proverb: “In a group, I feel like it’s important that everybody’s voice is heard. Any successful person will tell you that they can’t accomplish anything by themselves. There is a quote that says, ‘If you go alone, you will go fast. But if you go together, you will go far.’ And I believe in equality and freedom of expression for everyone.”

However, the most unforgettable incident of the evening occurred when Muhammad continued to sing “Summertime” by Fantasia Barrino despite facing technical difficulties, which resulted in her belting into a muted microphone. The hosts granted her with a chance to perform the song again, but people remembered her for executing her vocal presentation with incredible grace not once, but twice.

When questioned about the amount of preparation that she underwent before her time in the limelight on the blindingly radiant stage, Muhammad said: “A lot, like, let me tell you! I was singing for my talent portion, and my roommate is a vocal performance major, so she helped me a lot. She was like, ‘No, you can’t stand like that, you have to stand like this, you have to do this with your hands.’ And then, my stepmom does pageants, so she was helping me with my walk. She was like, ‘Walk like this, you gotta move your shoulders,’ and yeah. I put a lot of work into it basically.”

Nerrise Favour Njunkeng, the reigning Miss Unity since 2017, introduced herself, her platform and her accomplishments during her year-long term before Paul and Steele revealed the victors of each category.

Boyd won introduction and platform, Wingo won best talent and Miss Congeniality, Gèdèon won question and answer and Muhammad won evening gown and poise, along with pageant booster. Ultimately, as soon as each of the ladies’ points were submitted to formulate their final scores, Muhammad emerged as Maryland’s next Miss Unity.

Muhammad smiled brightly as her enthusiastic family and friends showered her with vice-tight hugs and flashing iPhone cameras, the glittering tiara on her head reflecting the luminescence from the spotlights overhead.

“I’m really happy that I won,” Muhammad said. “I was really nervous for it. And it’s like, I just got to college, and it’s the first thing that I did out of my shell. I’m happy that I succeeded.”