Advocating for arts education comes naturally for Franklin, a Winston-Salem native
who has been surrounded by music throughout her life, even composing her first song
at the age of six.
“I participated in choir throughout my school years. I was fortunate that my parents
could pay for lessons,” she said during a panel discussion at UNCSA in November. “There are children who don’t have art in their schools simply because of where
An arts education
After high school, Nia headed to East Carolina University in Greenville to study music
composition, but her education plan was nearly derailed when her father was diagnosed
with a rare form of lymphoma. She underwent a stem cell transplant for her father,
essentially saving his life. Faced with finding a way to help pay for school, Franklin
entered and won a campus pageant that emphasized service, scholarship and talent.
Friends urged her to enter the Miss North Carolina competition for additional scholarship
money. She competed as Miss Capital City in 2016, establishing music education and
lymphoma research as her service priorities.
After graduating from ECU, Franklin enrolled in the UNCSA School of Music’s graduate composition program, studying with Lawrence Dillon.
“Dr. Dillon …was so inspiring to me,” she recently told NAfME. “His thoughts about
music were very similar to mine, so I felt as though I was on the right track in a
lot of ways because of that.”
While at UNCSA, Franklin’s passion for music education and her drive to serve led
her to ArtistCorps, an artist-driven AmeriCorps-based program that places UNCSA students in public schools and community-based institutions to
work with high-needs students.
Franklin believes every child should be exposed to music from a young age. Music fosters
creativity and enhances the development of motor skills at a young age, she said,
and builds confidence and a sense of community.
Watch Nia discuss her platform on Good Morning America, days after being crowned Miss
“With ArtistCorps, I was going into different sites teaching music in schools and
preschools that didn’t have it,” she said, adding that she met a two-year-old named
Noah who had limited vocabulary, a very short attention span and no ability to focus.
“As the year went on, I was able to get him to focus on the music and become more
engaged in what I was teaching,” she said. Exposure to music turned Noah’s life around,
increasing his vocabulary from about 20 words to 100 during the year.
“I created one activity where the students could play one note on the piano at the
end of class, and they all loved it. This tangible activity was where I began to notice
a big difference in their attitudes when it came to paying attention and understanding
how music is made,” she said.
“It was in that year that I knew I really have to go farther with my love for music.”
Dean of Music Brian Cole said Franklin is a strong voice for the power of art to transform lives. “Through
her work with ArtistCorps, she witnessed how exposure to music in particular improved
children’s capacity for learning,” he said. “The arts and arts education have a very
powerful advocate in Nia.”
Franklin received a Master of Music in 2017, and was awarded a Kenan Fellowship at Lincoln Center Education. In New York,
she collaborated with Success Academy Charters Schools and as a cultural partner with
Sing for Hope to reach as many students and communities as possible. She competed
in the Miss New York competition as Miss Five Burroughs, winning preliminary competitions
in swimsuit and talent for her performance as a classical vocalist.
After winning the Miss America crown, Franklin said music helped her find herself as young black woman. “I grew up at
a predominantly Caucasian school and there was only five percent minority, and I felt
out of place so much because of the color of my skin,” she said. “I found my love
of arts, and through music that helped me to feel positive about myself and about
who I was.”
During the November homecoming festivities on campus, Franklin performed original
compositions on piano before headlining a panel discussion, “Women Power the Arts,
the Arts Empower Women.” Participation in the Miss America program has taught her
the importance of building a strong network of supportive friends and colleagues,
another message she hopes to promote.
“I want to be the voice and advocate for young girls and women that had no idea that
they could even write compositions and notate music,” she said.
by Lauren Whitaker