Classically trained opera singer, Nia Franklin made history when she won the title of Miss America 2019. The talented composer, singer and songwriter is the founder of Compose Her, an initiative that seeks to empower women in music. Moving into philanthropy, Franklin works with Be The Match, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about STEM cell donations.
Marcellas Reynolds: Miss America 2019, as a woman of color, how does it feel to make history?
Nia Franklin: It feels amazing! To make history feels like we’re making strides. With every piece of history made by a person of color, it feels like we’re getting somewhere. That’s why the fight is not over, and we have to keep going. As we see with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the countless other people slain, we need to say their names. We are still in a lot of ways in bondage. Some may think that winning a beauty pageant isn’t a big deal. It is important because it allows us to see ourselves in roles where we usually are not seen. Beauty may seem superficial, but how we are viewed, and being seen as valuable helps make sure we are seen equal. That’s why documenting Black history and Black excellence is so important.
2019 marked the year all four major United States pageants were won by Black women. Nia Franklin was the one to take home the title of Miss America; however, her drive for pageantry didn’t start with a desire for scholarship and crowns.
Franklin’s father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during her freshman year of college, and Franklin decided to be his stem cell donor. Then, Franklin needed a way to pay for school, so she became a part of the Miss America Organization.
Her early pageantry days began in 2016 and 2017 with Miss Black and Gold. She was then crowned Miss New York in 2018 and moved onto Miss America a year later.
Her titles are only a fraction of what makes her the beautiful woman she is today. Franklin has a special place in her heart for philanthropy, social activism, and the arts.
While attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Franklin was a member of the ArtistCorps. Here, she worked to invite artists into public schools and community centers to work with students with less access to arts programming. When Franklin moved to New York, her passion for the greater good did not falter. She began working with Success Academy Charter Schools, founded a music club for students, and served as a cultural partner with the nonprofit. Franklin is also a classically trained opera singer and uses that talent to further her passion for helping others.
Marcellas Reynolds: Nia, do you feel like yourself anymore, or is it always Miss America, Nia Franklin?
Nia Franklin: I treated my time as Miss America like a business. I still feel like Nia. I got a boost quickly from the Miss America title, and I’ll always appreciate the title. It’s a part of who I am.
Marcellas Reynolds: What made you decide to do your first beauty pageant?
Nia Franklin: Miss America is a scholarship competition, which was the primary reason I decided to compete. Because of the Miss America Organiza-
tion, my debt was virtually wiped clean from both of the degrees that I have in music composition. I have my degrees in music composition. My talent speaks for itself. I’ve met people along the way that will only help enhance and further my career as I continue to work in the field of music composition and the music industry period.
Marcellas Reynolds: You competed on the state level a few times before going to Miss America, right?
Nia Franklin: Yes, I competed in my home state, North Carolina for a couple of years. It’s not a fun place to compete when you’re brown. The first time they had a Black Miss North Carolina was 1983 the year Vanessa Williams won Miss America. Up until last year, 2019, there had never been another Black woman to represent the title of Miss North Carolina for the Miss America system.
Marcellas Reynolds: When you competed for Miss New York 2018, you won the swimsuit, the talent, and the interview competition.
Nia Franklin: Yes, I did. Oh my goodness, that was a time. I won Miss Five Boroughs on March 12th, then went to Miss New York the week of June 30th and won the crown. I remember thinking, “Yo, this title right here is legacy.” Six Miss New Yorks have won Miss America. We also have a three-peat. Miss New York, 2013, 2014, and 2015 were all Miss New York’s that won Miss America three times in a row. Plus, the most famous Miss America ever was a Miss New York, Vanessa Williams. I remember being at the Miss America pageant, and even though I wanted to win Miss America, I was very content being Miss New York. It was such an amazing title.
Marcellas Reynolds: And then you were off to Atlantic City where you won Miss America 2019, the year the swimsuit competition ended. How did you feel about the controversy?
Nia Franklin: Some people view the swimsuit competition as degrading to women. I think that’s ludicrous. I believe a woman should be able to choose if she wants to do that. If you enter a pageant like Miss America and that pageant has a swimsuit competition,
you’re choosing to compete. No one is saying, “Hey, you have to do this.” It’s a choice to become a part of an organization where you may have to wear a swimsuit to compete. I don’t know all the facts about why they chose to end the swimsuit competition. But, I had to deal with it and be at peace with it to have a good year as Miss America, where I didn’t feel worried or sad about things. I can’t change the past and say, “Hey, can I please compete in a swimsuit?” No, you have to move forward.
Marcellas Reynolds: Yes! When people ask me why models have to be this thin or that tall, I’m like, “Look, these are the requirements to be a model. If you can’t work within those parameters, go do something else.” Everything you do in life, whether it’s a career or a passion you follow, is elective.
Nia Franklin: Or, do it in your way. Be true to yourself and do it in your way, where you feel comfortable. There are so many examples of this. Think about Miss Minnesota Halima Aden, the first-ever contestant to compete wearing a burkini because she didn’t want to reveal her body that way. Now she’s a model represented by IMG Models. That happened as a result of her being herself and still deciding to try out for Miss Minnesota USA. “Unfortunately, I don’t want to wear a two-piece to do that, but I will wear my burkini.” She didn’t win the title, but she made national headlines. If it’s something you want to do, then do it, and if you don’t want to do it, then stop making an excuse.
Marcellas Reynolds: What’s next for Nia Franklin?
Nia Franklin: What’s next? I’m going to continue working on my music. I also enjoy mentorship and helping to build other people up in my field, which led me to found my initiative, Compose Her. I’m right in the middle of a Master Class Series I’m leading through Compose Her for vocalists who want to learn more about the basics of singing and the basics of composing. We just had our first class this morning, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ll be continuing to work on that.
Check out other pageant winners here