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Miss Dream Castle plans to sell Ja

By Mark Cummings Editor-at-Large cummingsm@jamicaobserver.com
Saturday, March 04, 2017

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Connecticut native Chaquanzha Stephenson, the 2016 winner of the US-based Miss Dream Castle Pageant, says she plans to encourage persons to visit Jamaica, and to engage young people across the island in empowerment sessions through her non-profit movement ‘Don’t Oppress People, Educate’ (DOPE Inc).

"I will definitely be visiting schools in Jamaica, and funds raised by my foundation will assist students there, so when I raise money it will help me to travel to where I want to go to do my presentations and to give back to ogranisations that support education, because I believe that higher education is the best way to go," the 25-year-old Stephenson explained.

"During my presentations I encourage kids to continue doing sports if they like it, but also, that they must put their academics first, because that is what is going to get them far in life."

A graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a double major in political science and justice studies, Stephenson, who is of Jamaican and American parentage, was in the island recently on a seven-day trip, as part of her reward for winning the annual pageant, staged in New York by Jamerican businesswoman, Gwen Nicks James.

She was accompanied by her 72-year-old grandmother Cover Morris and chaperone Lyndon Taylor.

Stephenson, who was visiting Jamaica for the third time, told the
Jamaica Observer that she was especially impressed with the beauty of the island, as well as the hospitality and generosity of the people.

She admitted, however, that before she departed the US for Jamaica, she was warned to "be extra careful because Jamaica has a crime problem".

"Before I got here, people were saying ‘be careful, there is lots of crime in Jamaica, Jamaica is pretty scary…’, but now that I am here, I haven’t been scared at all. The weather has been good, the people are nice I feel at home, I don’t feel threatened at all, so I really don’t know what they were talking about," said Stephenson, as she pledged to use her influence to get more persons to visit the island.

"I am definitely going to encourage persons to come here, get the experience… have some jerk chicken… just to enjoy what the country has to offer."

While in Jamaica, Stephenson’s hectic schedule included visits to several tourist attractions, including the Rose Hall Great House, Dunn’s River Falls, Rick’s Café in Negril, Margaritaville Negril and Hard Rock Café, Montego Bay.

She was also interviewed on the ‘
Barry G Show’ aired on
Mello FM and
Mello TV, and met with students of the Iris Gelly Primary School in Kingston and Flanker Primary and All-Age School, who are recipients of scholarships from the Dream Castle Foundation.

Stephenson said that interacting with the recipients from Flanker Primary and All-Age and their classmates and teachers, who were feted at the Dream Castle Villa in Ironshore by Nicks James, was one of the highlights of her trip to Jamaica.

She noted that her foundation, which is aimed at empowering underprivileged youth, was conceptualised almost three years ago during her second year at university.

"I went to a predominantly white school and, while I was there, I was verbally assaulted by a Caucasian male who told me that black people smell, referred to me as an animal, and that I gained my admission to the school because of my athleticism ... so he felt the need to insult my intelligence overall and instead of me transferring to a different school, which my parents wanted me to do, I decided to fight it. I wanted to stay there and I wanted something to happen to him. But the administrators were telling me that because he didn’t physically assault me nothing could be done, and where he said those words were in a common space on the campus grounds — it had to be in the dormitory before something could be done," she recalled.

She said she strongly disagreed and after a series of mediations and meetings with administrators and other stakeholders, she "finally prevailed".

"As a result of my action the by-laws of the school were finally changed to say that if any discriminatory remarks are said anywhere on campus, it would go against one’s code of conduct," she revealed, adding that the change helped to retain the African American minority retention rate for graduates at that school."

The experience, she stressed, led to the birth of her foundation.

Stephenson said that apart from giving motivational talks across the US, visits to several countries across the globe are in the making.

Already, she has been to Dubai and Africa.

Meanwhile, Stephenson, who beat eight contestants on her way to becoming the Miss Dream Castle 2016 queen, is thanking Nick James for giving her the opportunity to serve. She stressed that winning the contest has afforded her the opportunity to once again visit Jamaica.

The annual pageant showcases the talents of young women of various backgrounds.

Proceeds from the event will go towards the Dream Castle Villa Scholarship Fund, which seeks to assist underprivileged students in Jamaica.


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