Meet the new Miss USA, Asya Branch, from Mississippi

By Layal Srour
November 22, 2020

Asya Branch, winner of Miss USA 2020.
Photo via Asya Branch Instagram.

The Miss USA 2020 title was awarded to Miss Mississippi, making her the first Black women in history to represent Mississippi on Monday, Nov. 9. The 69th Miss USA pageant took place in the Exhibition Centre and the Soundstage at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

Asya Branch, 22, and Mississippi University graduate, not only made history as the first Black women to win Miss Mississippi, but she was also the first to win the state a Miss USA crown.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Branch said, “I couldn’t believe that my name had been called. I’m the first Miss Mississippi to have been crowned Miss USA and so, honestly I was just honored and overwhelmed and completely overjoyed.”

Education professor Zakia Gates gave her thoughts on the new Miss USA and how it brought back memories for her as a young girl when Vanessa Williams won Miss USA in 1983.

“My thoughts on the winner of the USA pageant was an overwhelming sense of euphoria.  I must be honest, I thought it was a joke,” Gates said. “I was very excited at that time as a young Black girl growing up in a generation of MTV and other television shows where Black women as beautiful women was non-existent. Being Miss USA sets the standard of beauty and intelligence and grace and I felt that if she (Vanessa Williams) was viewed in this way, then as a young Black girl, I was also beautiful, intelligent, and graceful.”

Her win came just one year have a historic year in in the pageant world for Black women. “In 2019, Miss USA (Cheslie Kryst), Miss Teen USA (Kaliegh Garris), Miss World (Toni-Ann Singh), Miss America (Nia Franklin) and Miss Universe (Zozibini Tunzi) crowned Black women for all of those titles.”

For a Black women to take this title in 2019 and 2020 is continuing the path towards a more diverse pageant because for “the first 30 years of The Miss America Pageant, Black contestants were not allowed to participate.”

During her time on the Miss USA stage, Branch touched on topics such as gun control, criminal justice reform, uniting the nation and empowering young girls.

In an article by The Daily Beast, she believes that guns should not be banned, but there should be training and people should pass safety tests before they are given a permit for a gun.

“As someone who grew up in a home with guns, I learned at an early age how to load, how to fire, and gun safety and I think that education should be available to everyone,” Branch said. “I think it’s important that we not ban guns, but I think it’s our Second Amendment right, and we just need more safety surrounding that.”

The criminal justice reform system is an important issue for Branch because her father was arrested and incarcerated for 10 years for armed robbery and kidnapping. She said, “That day, our lives changed forever.”

In 2018, she sat at a roundtable discussion with President Trump to lobby for the First Step Act bill. “It helps to better reintegrate job opportunities. There are tax incentives that allow people to hire felons and receive a tax break from that, and another thing is just having basic necessities,” she explained. “Even the smallest steps make the biggest difference.”

In an article by Fox News, Branch continued to say, “If you can’t get a seat at the table, you can’t make a difference. I found that to be an inspiring and moving moment for me because it shows that I can accomplish my goals and really make a difference in the world.”

As for her plans to unite the country, Branch said, “We’ve lost trust in the systems that seem to keep our country running, from the media to business to our government. And it’s all about restoring that trust and coming together and working together to heal and trust in these systems. If we want to continue to be the greatest nation, we’re gonna have to set a better example.”

Finally, by being crowned the winner of Miss USA, Branch hopes to empower young girls and set an example for them growing up.

“It’s really an honor to be able to set this example for young girls to know that they don’t have to look like the person that came before them in order to accomplish their goal,” she said. “I truly am grateful to hold this title and continue to be a positive role model for all of our youth to know that their life circumstances doesn’t have to define them and that they’re more than capable of accomplishing anything that they set their minds to.”

“For little black girls, this will help knowing that they grew up during a time of such contentious social and political paradigms occurring around the world but will rise in the face of all of this through media and images of beautiful Black, young women who can grace covers of different magazines and hold the crown of Miss USA, ” Gates said. “The world can now see her in a different light where her global beauty surpasses the weight she is normalized to carry.”

Prior to becoming Miss USA, Branch started “Love Letters” to help inmates stay in touch with their loved ones. She has also created a Social Impact Initiative called “Finding Your Way: Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents.” Branch was also in the middle of creating her own beauty line called Branch Beauty, but put it on hold due to winning Miss USA.

“It is one thing to discuss passing a law based on a personal story, but it is another to find the purpose of the law either being for one person, or for a community as a collective,” Gates said. “This would be very important for any woman crowned as Miss USA to use her beauty and grace but maintain the intelligence factor as the forefront of beauty.”



Layal Srour

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