We’re so proud of Vancouverite Nova Stevens, who will be competing for the Miss Universe Canada title on Saturday October 24th, 2020 in Toronto! This remarkable young woman is not only radiant, she is also using her voice to encourage young African-Canadians and other minority groups to see the beauty in themselves, always. We chatted with Nova ahead of the big day. Go Nova! —Vita Daily
Hi Nova! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start!
My name is Nova Stevens, and my background is South Sudanese. I immigrated to Canada at the age of six with my cousin, leaving my immediate family behind—it’s been 22 years since we’ve seen each other. I am currently chasing my dream of becoming Miss Universe Canada 2020. Winning the competition holds special significance to me, as I would be only the second Black woman to win the title in over 30 years, and the third to represent Canada.
What is Miss Universe Canada and how did you get involved with it?
Miss Universe Canada is a national beauty pageant whose winners go on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. I first became involved with Miss Universe Canada six years ago—it was my first time competing in a pageant. I didn’t win that year, but I loved competing and knew I had to try again. So, four years later I returned, this time letting my natural hair grow free. It was important for me to compete as my authentic self, and demonstrate to other girls that they don’t need to comply to beauty standards dictated by society. Whether you have dark skin, big lips, hair like wool or a big nose, your features are beautiful and unique, and should be represented in a positive light—because you’re perfect exactly as you are. This year will be my third time competing in Miss Universe Canada, and I am proud to represent all women of colour and showcase my natural, authentic beauty to the world. We deserve to be seen and celebrated, just like everyone else!
Are you excited about the competition on October 24th? How are you prepping?
I am beyond excited! I have worked extremely hard to become the very best version of myself, and I’m thankful to my incredible coaches for helping me prepare. Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova has shared valuable insights, Lucas Mattiello of Level Up Living is helping me improve my public speaking skills and Janina Schmidt with Function Health Club has trained and pushed me to meet my fitness goals. I am extremely grateful for these phenomenal individuals, who not only motivate and inspire me, but also believe in me.
What are your thoughts around encouraging young African-Canadians and other minority groups to see the beauty in themselves?
I decided to wear my natural hair exactly for this reason. I want to encourage young women of colour to see themselves as beautiful, regardless of the images and definitions portrayed by society and the media. There is power in imagery, but also in representation: young girls need to see themselves in industries they aspire to be in. Seeing others accomplish the goals they want to attain instils confidence in these girls to dream and believe in themselves. And when you believe in yourself, you can conquer anything.
Tell us about the work you do for Keep6ix, Operation Smile and the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada.
I have been working to raise awareness for Keep6ix, who’s mission is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. In essence, they help to rehabilitate individuals who were previously incarcerated by supporting their re-integration back into society, whether finding jobs or returning to school. Operation Smile is the official charity of Miss Universe Canada, and helps children around the world who suffer from cleft lip or cleft palate smile, eat and enjoy life again. I have been fundraising for Operation Smile alongside some of my pageant sisters, and it’s truly a rewarding experience. Recently, Shamika Mitchell and I organized a march in Vancouver that united 15,000 people in solidarity against, hate, injustice and racism towards Black people. We also had the City of Vancouver declare August 1 “Emancipation Day”. I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done, but there is still much left to do—my next goal is to achieve Canada-wide recognition of Emancipation Day.
Win or not, what message are you hoping to send via your participation in this year’s Miss Universe Canada?
We are in the middle of a viral pandemic, and a racial one as well. These times are hard for all of us, but now, more than ever, we need to band together rather than let divisive voices tear us apart. Finally, I want to encourage everyone to use their voices to speak up against hate, injustice, racism and discrimination. Your voice is the strongest weapon you possess—always stand up for what you believe in, even if you’re standing alone.
Main photo credit: Kate Whyte Photography