Last year was a big year for black women in pageantry because, for the first time in history, Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA were all Black women. Asya Branch is following in the footsteps of these women as she has also made two bits of pageant history of her own.
In 2018, she was the first Black woman to be crowned Miss Mississippi USA in the 68 years since the pageant began. Then earlier this month, Branch became the first Black woman from Mississippi to win the coveted title of Miss USA.
According to Fox News, the 22-year-old was crowned months after the pageant was originally scheduled spring date because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Things were slightly different this year; the ladies were made to answer their questions earlier before the competition and also wore mandatory bedazzled face masks only taken off during performances at the event held at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Branch, and her family moved to Mississippi in July 2003 when she was just a toddler. She is the sixth of eight children and says she would not trade her big family for anything as they have been her biggest support system through her pageantry and life.
“You have so many more supporters, so many more people to laugh and joke with, and it just makes life 10 times more fun!,” Branch told Miss USA.
While still only 17, Branch travelled out of state the first time to Harvard University for summer school and later graduated from the University of Mississippi with a major in integrated marketing communications, with an emphasis in public relations and a minor in general business.
The budding beauty entrepreneur launched her own cosmetics line, in the summer of 2019, called Branch Beauty. The brand has been described as “cruelty-free products to enhance the natural beauty you already have.”
Branch said she has always wanted to be an entrepreneur and was inspired by her beauty vlogging on YouTube to launch a beauty brand that has makeup must-haves and soon, a skincare range.
Plans to expand the business are currently on hold because the beauty queen must soon move to New York to begin her duties as Miss USA.
Her family history has shaped her ideals in life. Her father was a retired military veteran and her mother a teacher’s assistant. At the age of 10, she and her siblings looked from a car as her father was arrested father was arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping.
“That day our lives changed forever,” she told Empower Missippi. “We had a beautiful home and a great life.”
Life took its toll on them and everything seemed to move from bad to worse. The bank foreclosed their home because they defaulted in payments. Branch said she “felt an overwhelming shame” whenever people treated them differently or cast gloomy glances at them because their father was in prison.
It was out of this feeling that she started her own initiative, “Finding Your Way: Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents,” to help children whose parents have been incarnated to deal better with the situation, per Glamour. She started sharing her story more openly and now, criminal justice reform is big part of her what she stands for.
“I originally started this as a way for children to have some sort of guidance,” she said. “So often, people will tell you to reach for the stars and chase after your dreams, but they don’t understand the hurt and confusion you feel from the hardships you’ve had to live through.”
She is also an ardent advocate for gun education and believes that instead of banning guns, people should be properly trained in its usage to reduce the casualties. Branch is all for responsible gun ownership.
“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,” she said, during a portion of the competition when she was tasked with speaking on a random subject pulled from a box, according to The Daily Beast.
Branch says the Second Amendment gives the right to people to bear and keep arms and she believes it will not be prudent to ban guns as well because people will always find a way to get them illegally.
“I think it’s important that we not ban guns, because obviously, people will find a way to get what they want anyways, but I think it’s our Second Amendment right, and we just need more safety surrounding that.”
The beauty queen received some backlash especially from anti-Trump Americans in 2018 when she was a part of a round table discussion on criminal justice reform with Trump and his in-law Jared Kushner.
However, Branch said the meeting was more about being a part of a change in the criminal justice system of the country than support for Trump.
“I have no shame in that meeting because regardless of who holds the office, I have a respect for it, and that is where decisions and changes are made. And I was able to be a part of that.”
She also sang the national anthem at the Trump rally in the state which she recently revealed to People was part of her Miss USA contract, so she was obliged to do so.
But Branch posted on social media, a caption after the president’s rally that read: “Incredible honor to sing the national anthem tonight in Southaven for the President Trump rally,” complete with a flag emoji and #potus.” The post has now been deleted.
There has not been any full endorsement of the Trump administration.
There are, however, ongoing plans to continue her work with prison reforms while keeping formerly incarcerated people from returning to jail and helping to create policies that help them to fully integrate with society.
When they get back on their feet it benefits not just society but their families as well and this is where her initiative comes to play.