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Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America 2019 on making history together

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For the first time, three black women are now wearing the crowns of the three major national pageants: Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America. Together on “CBS This Morning,” they spoke out about making history.

“It’s symbolic, I think, and it sends a message across the world really that you can be anything you want to be, and there doesn’t have to be just one of us at a time up here,” Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin said Tuesday. “It can be all. And I think it showcases diversity as well.”

Cheslie Kryst, who was crowned Miss USA last Thursday, agreed. “It’s also a reminder of how far we have to go,” Kryst added.

“I believe when Ursula Burns was no longer the CEO of Xerox, there were no more black female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and that is an unfortunate statistic to know. So I think this celebration or this landmark should we celebrated, but it’s also a reminder we have a lot to do,” Kryst said. As an attorney in North Carolina, Kryst practices civil litigation and also represents prisoners in pro-bono work.

Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris, who ignored advice and proudly wore her natural curls in the competition to inspire self-confidence, said seeing this kind of representation “means a lot” to her.

“I have all these influencers that I look up to on social media. Now I’m getting messages from moms of biracial kids, and kids themselves that are biracial. And girls that are scared to wear their hair naturally, and them saying that I have been a big influence in their lives and that they’re going to start wearing their hair naturally or that they’re more proud to just be themselves. It fills my heart with joy,” Garris said.

Garris said she used to straighten her hair for pageants. “It’s just kind of what I did. I looked up to my mom a lot, and she had straight blond hair. I really wanted to embody the same characteristics and I thought I had to do that physically. But as I grew up, I realized I can do that while being myself and still be powerful,” she said.

Franklin, a classically trained opera singer whose goal is to break down racial stereotypes and advocate for equality in the arts, said a lot of her participation in pageants had to do with scholarship money as well.

“My father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma T-cell cancer when I was a freshman in college. I ended up being his stem cell donor when I was a sophomore in 2013, but I was in grad school. I have my masters in music composition, and through this organization, I have been able to gain roughly $65,000 in scholarship money,” Franklin said. “And so I will be debt free through this organization, and that is so important to me, and I think to all of us, to have that type of opportunity.”

CBS News reported last week on the growing student loan debt crisis, where borrowers nationwide owe a total of $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt.

But Franklin assured viewers you don’t have to win Miss America to gain scholarships. “You can even compete in a local like I did. I didn’t win the first two years that I competed in this system, but I still had access to scholarship money and used it toward my loans,” she said.

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