United Black Students (UBS) blew the Homecoming race wide open when Antonio Mercurius and Beja Turner took the crowns of King and Queen in Tuesday night’s Homecoming King and Queen pageant.
The UBS duo – member and president respectively – secured 90 points, the maximum number of points in the pageant, for their organization by outperforming their competitors with poignant spoken-word pieces, inching UBS closer to the Homecoming overall title. The organization already placed in the opening ceremonies and Spirit Tree and are in the lead for the overall title.
Twelve finalists for King, Queen, Prince and Princess showcased their vocal, creative writing and even Rubik’s cubing skills to make a strong bid for the crown at the Shalala Student Center Grand Ballroom.
Mercurius’ original piece of spoken word was about poetry’s potential to mend lives and how it served that purpose for him.
“Poetry introduced me to self-worth, taught me how to love myself,” Mercurius said in his piece. “I invite you, come write with me, come heal with me.”
This marks the second consecutive year that a UBS member was crowned King, with Donovan Thomas earning the title last year, also winning with spoken word.
Thomas and Mercurius, outside of UBS, are co-founders of the poetry club, Speak What You Feel. Thomas beamed when he saw Mercurius use their shared passion in his performance.
“I’m really proud,” Thomas said. “Spoken word is something that we share, and he’s better than me so I’m glad he was able to perform it.”
Mercurius said he was elated to be crowned King and to succeed the crown from Thomas. The victory, Mercurius said, just adds to the students’ drive in winning the overall title.
“It felt great to take the crown and follow in his footsteps,” Mercurius said. “We are coming for that crown, the trophy, the prize, everything that comes along with being the Homecoming organization champion and I am so proud of all the members who put in so much work.”
Turner, who performed earlier in the night, delivered a poem titled “The Danger of Silence” describing how silence leads to injustices like violence against the LGBT community and racial prejudices. One of the verses in her poem was, “Silence is Rwanda Genocide, silence is Katrina.” Through her performance, Turner made it clear that she wouldn’t stay silent when faced with pressing concerns.
“I will not let silence wrap around my indecision,” Turner said. “I will live everyday as if there is a microphone tucked under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibitions, because who needs a soapbox when all you ever needed was your voice.”
Although UBS is working for the title of Homecoming champion, Turner, who is the president of the organization, stressed that Homecoming is more about the participating and enjoying the moment.
“When we came into this pageant we weren’t thinking of the race at all, we wanted to represent UBS really well,” Turner said. “It’s awesome that UBS took both positions. It’s great and we are really honored that we could do this for our organization.”
The Prince crown was secured by Andrew Smith, who was originally part of the Pi Kappa Phi group that bowed out of the Homecoming race due to undisclosed constraints, and Toni Farrell of Alpha Sigma Phi-Kappa Kappa Gamma was crowned Princess.
The judging was not solely based on individual talents. Male and female contestants were randomly paired together and asked to create a “spirit skit” about a particular pre-determined historical university figure.
Although Smith’s skit about well-known UM alumnus Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helped push him toward the crown, his individual talent roused the audience the most. Every one of the nearly 200 members of the crowd rose to their feet to watch the mathematics major solve three Rubik’s cubes in less than 30 seconds.
The first technique was solving a cube with two hands. Then, Smith solved the second with one hand while doing a push up with the other arm. The last cube he solved using only his feet, causing the crowd erupt in boisterous cheers.
Turner said she has been in awe of the King and Queen pageant participants for years. Now as a senior, she earned the top prize in the competition and forged great friendships along the way.
“I always looked up to the contestants before and now I am one of them in my final year here,” Turner said. “I am in awe, it’s a dream come true.”