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Miss America reflects on her reign, talks about how brother with special needs inspires her activism

NBC News 6 days ago Brahmjot Kaur
Emma Broyles before she was crowned as the 2022 Miss America at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Dec. 16, 2021. © John Angelillo Emma Broyles before she was crowned as the 2022 Miss America at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Dec. 16, 2021.

Emma Broyles, the 2022 Miss America, has actually spent a lot of her life on the sidelines — cheering on her older brother at sporting events. 

Brendan Broyles, 22, who has Down syndrome, is an athlete in the Special Olympics and a major source of inspiration for his sister's activism as Miss America.

Emma Broyles is the first Korean American and first Miss Alaska to win the title. As her reign comes to an end next month, she talked with NBC News about her longtime activism with the group, her identity as a biracial Asian American and her advocacy for Alaskan Native communities.

Broyles, 21, chose the Special Olympics as her social initiative during the pageant motivated by her older brother. 

“I remember growing up, my brothers and I all played soccer together and as we got older, it was harder for Brendan to keep up with the other kids his age,” said Broyles, who has two brothers.

Broyles said she first realized her brother was different when their mother enrolled Brendan in their local Special Olympics chapter.

“I realized that he was a little bit different from the other kids our age and it kind of gave me this almost maternal instinct, this sibling instinct, to look out for him and to make sure that he had the same opportunities as I did,” she said.

Like many young Asian American girls, Broyles said she never saw representation she related to in the media, but is grateful she has the opportunity to be that person for other girls and women.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to be the first Korean American Miss America. I think about my upbringing and the fact that I never saw people who looked like me in popular media,” Broyles told NBC News. “It’s really cool to be able to have that representation and to be that representation for other people — especially being a mixed kid. I didn’t ever feel like I was quite Korean or ever feel like I was quite white.”

Broyles, born in Anchorage, has had several outreach opportunities as Miss America, including with Alaskan Native communities.

“I actually just got back from a trip about a week and a half ago from St. Mary’s, Alaska, which is a very small village up in Alaska with about 500 people,” she said. There she worked with a partner group to help provide glasses for students in the community for Alaskan Native Heritage Month. 

“I had never quite realized the kind of disparities between the cities and some of the smaller populations, where Alaska Natives aren’t quite supported by the rest of the state. I think that it really gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it means to be an Alaskan native and what it means to be living in a village and still keeping up with your own culture while experiencing how the rest of society is moving forward as well,” she said.

Broyles said that, as Miss Alaska, she had a relatively small following online. “But now, as Miss America, having a national platform and a national audience, it’s been a true honor to be able to use that to amplify the voices of others,” she said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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