Miss USA 2020 makes history in Graceland

MEMPHIS, Tennessee -- America has a new Miss USA and she has made history, to boot.

Asya Branch, 22, received the coveted title Monday night during the pageant held at Elvis Presley's Graceland.

Branch is the first woman from Mississippi to be crowned Miss USA. But she is no stranger to making history.

In 2018, she became the first Black Miss Mississippi.
Under that title, she advocated passionately for criminal justice reform, explaining in a video on the Miss USA YouTube page that the subject is close to her because her father was arrested and incarcerated for 10 years.

"I had to grow up at an extremely young age to help my mom care for my siblings. This changed my perspective on life completely and changed my perspective on incarceration and inmates," Branch said.

Also in 2018, she used her platform and advocacy to participate in a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump and other administration officials at the White House on how to reintegrate inmates back into society.

Branch said that feat would then lead to the passing of the First Step Act.

"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."

"I've been able to heal while also helping others find their way," she continued.

Monday's competition was originally slated for the spring, but like many things, was postponed due to the pandemic.

In front of a spare, socially distanced crowd, Branch gave her final statement, which was on the topic of gun laws, before she won the crown.

Branch said she grew up in a home with guns and learned how to safely use them at a young age.

"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. "I believe that we should require people to pass training and safety courses before they're allowed to purchase a gun and before receiving a permit. I think it's important 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."

Branch takes over the title from Cheslie Kryst of North Carolina. At 557 days, Kryst is the longest-reigning Miss USA because of COVID-19 delays to the 2020 competition.

Branch will go on to represent the United States in the next Miss Universe competition.

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