Brooklynite and former Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin was crowned Miss America at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Sept. 9.
Franklin originally hails from North Carolina and only spent a year living in the Big Apple — most recently calling Clinton Hill home — but insisted during the competition that she has the toughness characteristic of a New York native.
“I have New York grit,” Franklin said. “As a New Yorker I understand what it means to work hard.”
Franklin moved to New York in June 2017 after she completed her master’s degree in music composition at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and then received an arts education fellowship at Lincoln Center on the distant isle of Manhattan, according to the New York Post, which added that candidates only have to live, work, or attend school in a state for at least six months before competing in its contest.
Franklin won her first New York-based title — Miss Five Boroughs — less than a year after moving here, and then took the crown of Miss New York this past July.
The classically trained opera singer touted her musical talents in the competition, singing “Quando m’en vo’,” a song from the opera “La Bohème,” during the talent portion. And she presented “advocating for the arts” as her “social impact statement,” a new portion of the competition that required contestants to describe how they would use their platform to advocate for positive social change. Franklin focused on advocating for equal access to arts education in schools, saying: “there is a 20-percent higher graduation rate at schools where music is a part of the curriculum.”
The inclusion of the “social impact statements” — along with the elimination of the swimsuit competition — were meant to shift the focus of the competition from contestants’ physical appearance as part of a rebranding effort by the organization in the era of #MeToo and after former executives were ousted last year after leaked e-mails showed them using vulgar language about contestants.
After the competition, Franklin said she was glad that she and her 50 competitors were not judged by how they looked in swimsuits.
“I’m happy that I didn’t have to do so to win this title tonight because I’m more than just that,” she told the Associated Press. “All these women on stage are more than just that.”
Franklin’s win came with a $50,000 scholarship. She could not be reached by press time.
Franklin is not the first Miss New York to go on to take the country’s top crown: Park Sloper Mallory Hagan clinched the crown in 2013. And other Brooklynites who won win the title of Miss New York went on to compete in the Miss America competition, including Ridgite Bethlene Pancoast in 2007 and Leigh Taylor-Smith in 2009.
New York has seen seven of its “Misses” go on to win the national crown — the most Miss America winners out of any state in the organization’s history, according to the New York Times. And nearly half of those winners originally hailed from elsewhere, according to the Post.