A University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media student has been crowned the new Miss USA.
Booneville native Asya Danielle Branch, who has studied Integrated Marketing Communication at UM, was crowned the winner of the 2020 pageant Monday night at Elvis Presley’s Graceland during the live competition.
You can watch a video of that moment below.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports that Branch is the first Mississippian to win the Miss USA title, and she was the first African American woman to win the Miss Mississippi USA title.
Branch has studied IMC with an emphasis in public relations and minor in general business at the University of Mississippi, according to her pageant bio. She said she hopes to work for a public relations firm or major corporation.
Debbie Hall, an instructional assistant professor of IMC, said she didn’t teach Branch, but Branch was gracious to be part of her Events class one semester.
“She impressed me as a kind and humble young lady…who is, of course, beautiful,” she said. “She uses her background to support young people who have parents who are incarcerated. Asya represents our school, our university and our state in a beautiful way.”
In her Miss Mississippi USA bio video, Branch talks about an issue that has become part of her pageant platform throughout the years – 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 in an earlier UM story. “There’s emotional distress, financial instability and so many questions about why a parent isn’t there.”
She wants to influence people’s lives by speaking at schools, churches, civic organizations and jails.
“It’s an underdiscussed topic, and I hope to bring light to it by sharing my story so others can see that I’m doing something positive,” she said in an earlier UM interview. “It’s perfectly fine to share and embrace the circumstances, because it’s part of who we are and it’s going to shape you. By talking about it, we can take down the gate of judgment.”
Having never left the state of Mississippi alone, at age 17, Branch attended Harvard University for summer school, according to her Miss Mississippi USA bio. She said the experience transformed her life and she grew.
Since then, she has accepted every challenge and opportunity. She describes herself as adventurous, compassionate, and a go-getter. “Having a strong mentality has allowed her to be a life coach and trendsetter without second guessing herself,” the bio reads.
Branch is not currently enrolled in the UM School of Journalism and New Media as she fulfills her duties as Miss Mississippi USA and Miss USA, but many professors remember her.
Alysia Steele, associate professor of journalism, said Branch was her photojournalism student.
“She was a thoughtful student, who asked good questions, cared about the quality of her work, participated in class discussions and was a team player,” she said. “Her winning Miss USA doesn’t surprise me one bit. She is a determined woman, who knows who she is, and she knows what she wants out of life, and I respect that. I am proud of her for many reasons. This incredible achievement is just one of them. Well earned, well deserved.”
Interim Dean Debora Wenger taught Branch broadcast reporting.
“As you might imagine, she lit up the screen when she was on camera,” Wenger said. “She was a pleasure to have
in class, and I know she will leave her mark on the world. She’s driven and dedicated to being a positive force for change.”
Here are a few more facts from her bio.
She is the sixth of eight siblings. “I strive every day to set an exemplary example to my brothers and sisters, whether they are younger or older,” she said. “Anyone can be a role model; age does not determine one’s ability to have positive impacts in the lives of others.”
She has her own cosmetics line called Branch Beauty. “What started as a makeup obsession has turned into a lucrative business that I am very proud of,” she said.
And . . . “I once watched an Ole Miss football game with Morgan Freeman. Hotty Toddy!”
Branch has also been involved with the UM Student Activities Association and the Student Media Center. She was a Rebel Radio DJ and co-hosted a 2018 radio show with fellow student Asia Herrod called “A Squared” that featured music, talk and motivational quotes. The two introduced themselves as “Asya with a Y” and “Asia with an I.”
“Asya was named Ole Miss’s Most Beautiful in 2018, an accomplishment that she is very proud of because she had the opportunity to represent the university that she loves,” the Miss USA website reports. “Making history as the first African American Miss Mississippi USA, Asya has been advocating for at risk children and criminal justice reform for the past several years. She has worked with government officials and the President on positively changing our justice system. Asya will continue to encourage our youth and be a voice for the unheard.”
Branch enjoys staying healthy, weight training, traveling, reading and promoting her cosmetics line.
“As Miss Mississippi USA, Asya wants to teach others that they do not have to be defined by their circumstances,” the Miss USA website reports. “Her favorite quote by Randy Pausch, ‘We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand,’ motivates Asya to share her life with others while inspiring them to overcome all of life’s adversities.”
Here are a few more recent headlines and links:
The Daily Mississippian – Asya Branch wins Miss USA, becomes first from MS to win title