Over the weekend, a new Miss South Sudan USA was crowned in Bloomington, Minn. People traveled from as far as Omaha, Neb., to compete in a field of contestants shrunk by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the social distancing and mask wearing, pageant organizer Yar Kang decided that the show must go on. She’s been organizing the pageant since 2006, five years before South Sudan gained its independence from the Republic of Sudan.

There was a five-year break starting in 2013 as Kang’s home country descended into civil war. But now Kang is insistent that the tradition continue, with the goal of inspiring and lifting up South Sudanese women in the U.S. and in Africa. 

“Our intention is to empower those young girls back home,” Kang said. “We want to bring peace, hope and let people in South Sudan know that we here in the USA support you 100 percent.”

The pageant has been held across the Midwest in places like Sioux Falls, S.D., and Omaha. This year’s winner, Nyakuaar Koang, made the trip from Nebraska with other contestants and last year’s winner Afiel Lewis. 

Others came from closer to the Twin Cities, but the sense of community didn’t deteriorate with distance. 

“It’s about bringing the beauty,” said contestant Afondo Unago of Rochester, Minn. But she emphasized that the beauty they bring to the pageant is dynamic. It’s made of your smarts, education and your “inner beauty.” 

“It’s looking at our young girls in the community and telling them that you can be somebody, you are somebody,” Unago said. 

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