A teacher from Nashville, Brianna Mason, has become the first African American “Miss Tennessee”. While preparing for her time in the “Miss America” pageant, she visited Sevier Middle School to speak with students about her journey.
Mason was born in Nashville. She attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and became a teacher. She now teaches first grade in Murfreesboro, where she lives with her cat, named Knight.
“I grew up in Nashville, the big city,” she said.
Mason had a good childhood; her mom kept her busy.
“I did theater at my school, I acted in musicals and plays,” she said. “I just did a lot of activities, a lot of extracurricular activities. I was the oldest of five, so we were always very busy when I was a kid.”
When she went to college, she was inspired to become a teacher. She has a long history of teaching in her family, including her grandmother, who was a teacher.
“My father was a teacher and is now a principal, and so education has always been in my blood,” Mason said. “I always loved kids, and one day I came to the realization: what better way to work with kids than to teach them?”
Mason did her first pageant when she was a freshman in college and she fell in love with it.
“I did the ‘Mr. and Ms. Freshman Pageant’ at UT and I just thought it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I did some research and found the ‘Miss Tennessee’ organization, and I found out how I could be a part of it and found out how I could get on that stage and compete for the title of Miss Tennessee.”
Her favorite things about pageants are all the skills she has developed through competing.
“There are a lot of interviews involved with winning titles,” Mason said. “You have to talk to the judges about why you are the best person to win. So, those skills I’ve gained from training for interviews have helped me with every job I’ve ever interviewed for.”
She did her “Miss Tennessee” pageant at the same place she had graduated from college.
“This year, the Miss Tennessee pageant was in Knoxville,” she said. “I was crowned at Thompson Boling Arena, the same place where I graduated from college. That was pretty cool.”
Mason had to compete with 26 other contestants.
“There was an interview portion, and then there’s an on-stage interview, a talent portion, and evening wear portion,” she said. “You have to wear a gown and walk up to a microphone and you give a social impact statement. It’s basically what we are passionate about. You have about 10 seconds to do a quick commercial about what we stand for and why.”
The moment Mason won was the time of her life.
“I don’t remember a lot of it because it was such a whirlwind,” she said. “I do remember crying my eyelashes off. It was amazing to finally achieve a goal you’ve worked so hard for.”
Becoming the first African American Miss Tennessee was extremely special to Mason.
“Especially looking at the history of ‘Miss Tennessee’, knowing there are girls who have never seen themselves represented in this role, it’s very important to me,” she said. “I take it as a huge responsibility.”
She has a clear message for African American girls.
“You can do anything you set your mind to, even if you don’t see yourself represented in your goal, whether that is a title you want to achieve or a team you want to be on or a job you want,” she said. “If you don’t see yourself represented, that’s okay. You can make your own history.”
She took one year off from teaching to be Miss Tennessee. She does a lot of speaking events, such as community events. She has spoken at churches. She also participates in a lot of fundraising events and other events that raise awareness for community service.
“I work closely with the Tennessee Department of Education. I serve as their spokesperson for literacy and the ‘Whole Child’ initiative,” Mason said. “I also work very closely with a lot of organizations that have something to do with autism. My social impact initiative is autism awareness. I work closely, for example, with ‘Autism Tennessee’ in Nashville.”
The big day of her competition in the Miss America pageant is just around the corner, and Mason is preparing for the competition.
“I’m practicing my talent; I play piano and I practice as often as I can,” she said. “I also go over interview questions. That’s the main goal of the competition: the girls showcasing their talents, but also how well-spoken they can be on lots of different issues.”
Want to become a pageant star? Mason knows how to get started.
“Definitely find a mentor, find someone who has been around the system or who has done it before,” she said. “It took awhile for me to find that for myself. You can’t do it on your own. If you have a title you have set your mind on, you can do it. You just have to work hard. Don’t be afraid of not winning. You can always learn from each time you don’t win.”
She also has some advice for middle school students.
“Never give up, no matter the circumstances,” she said.