“I feel like I have a responsibility to be a better leader, to hold myself to a higher standard and help people,” says Flanigan, who was crowned on Jan. 10 at a ceremony in Auburn. “To use my influence and have a strong impact on my community.”
Flanigan, 24, is the first Black woman to win the title as Miss Cullman, and her pioneering role is not lost on her.
“When people are shocked, I understand,” Flanigan says. “There has been a reputation that people of color don’t go to Cullman, don’t live in Cullman. I would say that Cullman has come a long way.”
Cullman County’s population is about 96 percent white, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates, and the area has a history of racial inequality and strife. The city of Cullman, for example, once was known as an intimidating “sundown town” that made it clear Black people weren’t welcome after dark.
Flanigan knows all this, and says she experienced racism while growing up in Hanceville, which is part of Cullman County. But the new Miss Alabama USA is an ambitious and altruistic woman who adheres to the principle of “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Instead of abandoning her hometown, she aims to make it better.
“I love the state of Alabama,” Flanigan says during an interview with AL.com. “I love being from here. I love the sense of family and community. I was born and raised here. My dad was born and raised here. It’s taken time for Cullman to change, and I want to see change and acceptance. Being racist and thinking the color of people’s skin defines them is ignorant. (Cullman) is known for that, unfortunately. But I’m not going to let people dictate who I am by what they say. A place doesn’t define you, but you can define that place.
“I believe I was born here for a reason,” Flanigan continues. “I believe I was raised here for a reason. It had a huge contribution to who I am today. I didn’t choose it, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s home to me.”
Talk to Flanigan for an hour or so, and you’ll find that certain humanitarian motifs — spotting injustice, aiding the needy, giving voice to the voiceless — are laced into her conversation and fused into her outlook on life. Her desire to encourage racial progress in Cullman, where she still lives, is just one example.
“Philanthropy is big with me, not just because it’s the right thing to do,” Flanigan says. “I want to help.”
Flanigan, a junior at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is immersed in a pre-law program, majoring in philosophy and political science. She’s the pre-law honor society treasurer at UAH, and involved in the university chapter of the NAACP. In law school, she plans to focus on corporate and securities law, but Flanigan says her dream is to have her own practice and offer free legal services to people who can’t afford them.