Asya Branch Continues Making Mississippi History

Booneville senior wants to spread positivity and 'change our country for the better' as Miss USA

Asya Branch, a UM senior from Booneville, wears the ‘Power of Positivity’ crown after being named Miss USA 2020 on Nov. 7 in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Benjamin Askinas

OXFORD, Miss. – In a year that already has recorded several record-breaking events, a University of Mississippi senior has added to the list by being the first from Mississippi and first African American Mississippian to win the coveted title of Miss USA.

Asya Branch, 22, was crowned the winner of the 2020 national pageant Monday night (Nov. 9) in Memphis. The integrated marketing communications major in the School of Journalism and New Media was the first African American to win the Miss Mississippi pageant, a preliminary to the Miss USA contest, a year ago.

“We’re making history,” the Booneville native said during a phone interview. “Each win breaks another barrier and shows that anyone can accomplish anything they want to do.”

Branch said her educational and pageant experiences at UM were instrumental in preparing her for success.

“Being a student at Ole Miss, running for Miss University, winning Most Beautiful, participating in ASB event planning and many other organizations and activities all taught me a lot,” Branch said. “I was surrounded by people who were always kind, caring and supportive of my endeavors.

“Each of these experiences shaped me and gave me new perspectives. They made me who I am today.”

During her yearlong reign as Miss USA, Branch said she hopes to spread positivity however she can.

“I’m a naturally positive person who tries to shed light and make a difference everywhere I go,” she said. “I want to encourage people to uplift one another. Together, we can change our country for the better.”

Branch’s win “lifts (the university’s) institutional pride and personal honor sky high,” said Donald Cole, former assistant provost and associate professor of mathematics emeritus.

“History will record its significance – we have arrived,” Cole said. “This university, in the midst of a pandemic, is not only surviving, but also thriving.

“A state’s once-turbulent racial division is now setting a model example for the nation. It’s a proud moment for us all.”

Asya Branch addresses the inaugural meeting of Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents, a UM organization she helped found on campus, in 2018. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

While wearing the Miss USA crown is still fresh for her, Branch said she’s already set her sights on continuing to make history.

“A lot can happen in a year’s time,” she said. “I hope I’ll win Miss Universe in 2021. Whatever happens, I choose to embrace the future with joy and appreciation.

“I’ll take my opportunities wherever they present themselves because I firmly believe I’m fulfilling my destiny.”

Her new title also gives her a louder voice to discuss her platform “Finding Your Way: Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents.”

Branch is one of those children. Her father has been in prison since she was 10.

“Being a child with an incarcerated parent takes a negative toll, with the stigmas that surround it,” she said. “There’s emotional distress, financial instability and so many questions about why a parent isn’t there.”

Her continued relationship with her father has led to her creating a love letters program, which provides jails with stationery so prisoners can continue to communicate with their families, mending the relationship between parent and child.

Bradley Baker, director of the Ole Miss Student Union, said he always thought that Branch would be successful at whatever she undertook.

“Asya is a remarkable young woman whose ability to work hard and keep a positive attitude have always served her well,” Baker said. “She was a stellar student while at Ole Miss and I’m sure will continue to shine as Miss USA and well beyond.”