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Second annual 'Little African Stars' contest highlights African youth

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Young children hailing from the Francophone African Diaspora did everything from singing to dancing to modeling at the second annual Little African Stars Talent Show on Sunday afternoon.

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The talent show, held at the James Varick Community Center in Central Harlem, featured a beauty contest for girls and a general talent contest for children. The age range of the children was 6 to 12 years old. The show also included special performances as well as presentations of traditional African clothing. Estelle Bouazi Yessoh, founder of Little African Stars, hosted the talent show.

Distinguished guests included Yvonne Etienne, the talent show's godmother; Lucien Kouassi, president and co-founder of the Association of Ivorians in New York and the talent show's godfather; and Bebe Porgo, founder of Children Hope for Africa. Judges included Bintou Diomande, founder of United Aid for Africa, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit; Bertini Heumegni, a model, actor, personal trainer and designer and founder of Mister Africa USA; Koku Afeto, a member of United Aid for Africa; and Aida Thiame, a volunteer.

This year’s contest cost $5,750. Enovative TV, a leading distributor of African television over the internet on TV, PC and smartphones, offered two cable boxes as part of a raffle and IvoirTV.net partially paid for the event space. Both Etienne and Kouassi made financial contributions to the show. Etienne also provided clothes for the traditional African clothing segment.

In 2012, Yessoh, an Ivory Coast native who currently works as an anchorwoman for IvoirTV.net, started the talent show to give Francophone African children a platform to express themselves by showing their talents and embracing their native cultural identity simultaneously. The contest seeks to empower children, give them leadership skills and boost their self-esteem while bringing them closer to their roots, their language and their identity.

The contest is open to all African children between the ages of 6 to 12 and must be living in the United States. Although the talent show started with a focus on Francophone Africa, it is open to all African children, Yessoh explained.

“I really like kids and I have a strong affinity for the African culture,” Yessoh said. “And so I noticed that the children of the African diaspora have a cultural conflict between the American culture and the African culture...they don’t really have a platform to express themselves in their own community.”

The first Little African Stars talent show took place in 2013. The show included 22 children from the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Togo, Mali and Senegal, and more than 300 people attended, including families of participants, journalists, recruiters and volunteers.

Roughly 15 boys and girls performed a variety of talents, including singing, dancing, poetry and martial arts. The children came from mostly West African countries, including Senegal, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

The first round consisted of a presentation of traditional clothing. The second round was a presentation of talents and the final round featured a presentation of the ability to speak in a language other than English, vis-à-vis poems, speeches and songs. And the talent show went beyond highlighting the talent of the Francophone African Diaspora. Aspiring singers, dancers and teachers permeated the stage as each child share their career ambitions with the audience.

The pageant winners included Nahomi Amako, 9, of the Bronx, who is from the Ivory Coast, for first place; Sally Coulibaly, 9, of Harlem, from the Ivory Coast, for second place; and Ethel Kabore, 10, of the Bronx, from Burkina Faso, for third place. For the talent portion, Bronx resident Fatimi Camara, 6, of the Bronx, from the Ivory Coast, won first place. The second place prize went to Stephane Titi, 9, of Queens, from the Ivory Coast, and Noshami Bamba, 11, of Harlem, from the Ivory Coast, won the third place prize.

Prizes for the talent contest winners included trophies with the “Little African Stars 2014” engraving, a back-to-school skit and an MP3 player. The rest of the participants received a back-to-school kit, with legos for boys and barrettes for girls.

Next summer, Yessoh said, they hope to start a two-week or month-long artistic summer camp in New York. She also hopes to help the winners of the talent show continue to pursue their dreams.

Note: The interview with Estelle Bouazi Yessoh was conducted in French and translated into English.

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