Don’t lament the youth. Millions of young adults around the world are helping to save lives every day. Martina Harris of American History High School in New Jersey is just one of these superstars. This past summer, she won the Miss Africa – New Jersey pageant. Miss Africa is an organization dedicated to women’s empowerment across the African diaspora. The contestants compete in categories like traditional wear, evening gowns, and swimwear as well as talent exhibitions. Harris is an outstanding spoken word poet. Her works have been published widely, and she is currently enrolled at St. Peter’s University (NJ). She took a few minutes to talk about her accomplishments with BK Nation.
Harris was introduced to the Miss Africa pageant by her sister, Sandra Seju. She met dozens of other young women through the organization representing nations as diverse as Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Harris represented her west African home, Liberia, in the pageant. In 2012, her writing won the Lincoln Scholarship essay contest, and her victory opened up dozens of new opportunities in her life. One of the most important chances came that summer when she attended the Oxbridge Academic Program’s “New York College Experience.” For four weeks, she took two college courses and studied with 150 of the most talented students from 40 different countries around the world at Barnard College, Columbia University.
As her knowledge and sense of purpose grew, Harris shaped a mission to address the health disparities on the African continent. This exposure shaped her mission pledge for the Miss Africa pageant this year. Harris works with a coalition to address the Ebola crisis by creating an activist platform to build a more effective clinical care system, especially in rural parts of the continent. The campaign is titled “Stronger than Ebola.” This commitment has carried over into her academic work at St. Peter’s, where she is a Political Science major with a minor in Social Justice.
Harris emphasized the importance of pan-African ideals in shaping her education. Leaders like Coretta Scott King had a special impact on her sense of purpose and identity. Harris described the ways that women like King built organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, yet did not receive the recognition for their efforts because they were not men or ministers. Going forward, she hopes to inspire young women and girls to make a difference in their families and communities. Harris said, “You can do anything and everything. Work constantly for your secret passion!”
Harris embodies the legacy of Kwame Ture, Elaine Brown, and Angela Davis. She is the heart of the Build Knowledge Nation project.