The most amazing accomplishment of Nia Franklin’s life so far isn’t necessarily being crowned Miss America 2019 on Sept. 9. It’s saving her father’s life.
Franklin’s father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma T-cell cancer when Franklin was a freshman in college. “His kidneys were failing,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He had no appetite. He even had trouble kind of breathing.”
Despite having chemotherapy and radiation, Franklin’s father relapsed twice. That’s when physicians suggested he try a stem cell transplant. “It turned out that I was a match — perfectly — and I wanted to be a part of helping to save his life.”
She explains, “Essentially, he needed to have a new immune system, which involves taking the donor’s blood and harvesting the cells and those stem cells that they collected are what they transferred to my father. And we just really had faith that this would be the cure that he needed.”
Her father recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of the stem cell transplant, and Franklin says that her dad is “wonderful” and doing well. “He was actually there at the Miss America competition, supporting me every step of the way,” she says.
As a little girl, Franklin told Yahoo Lifestyle, she never dreamed of growing up to be Miss America. Instead, her hope was to be a famous singer. In fact, Franklin, a classically trained opera singer who composed her first song at age 5, sang an aria from Puccini’s La Bohème during the talent portion of the competition, which wowed judges.
An abiding passion for singing is one of the reasons why Franklin is focused on “advocating for the arts.” According to her Miss America bio, Franklin was as a college undergraduate a member of ArtistCorps, an organization that places artists in public schools and community-based facilities where they work with at-risk youth. When she moved to New York, Franklin became involved in Sing for Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to arts advocacy and healing arts programming. “Music and the arts are vital to a child’s education,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The reason Franklin set her sights on participating in Miss America pageants was purely a practical one. She was in graduate school at the time and money was tight — her father was unemployed since he was still recuperating from cancer treatment. “Miss America is the largest provider of scholarships to young women,” she says. “When I found that out, I decided to give it a try.”
The Brooklyn resident became Miss New York in 2018. When she won Miss America 2019, which includes a $50,000 scholarship, Franklin says it was “a shock. … It didn’t feel real.”
Franklin hopes that other women are encouraged by her win. “I want as many young women who are out there who were maybe like me and didn’t think that they could be Miss America, I want them to have the confidence in themselves that they can do that. You don’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to be a certain height. You don’t have to have a certain amount of money to be Miss America.”
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