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2018 Miss Mississippi: ‘It’s a dream come true’

From The Vicksburg Post

VICKSBURG — Just hours after being crowned, 2018 Miss Mississippi Asya Branch is still processing the reality of winning the coveted title.

“I am still in shock, honestly. It’s a dream come true,” Branch said. “It is one of those things you hope that it happens and when it actually does, it is just so hard to fathom it,” she said, adding, “I woke up this morning and I was like hmmm, wait a minute, I am Miss Mississippi.”

Branch was crowned Saturday night at the Vicksburg Convention Center after three nights of preliminary competitions and the final round of competition, last night.

Branch, of Booneville, is the 20-year-old daughter of Kristal and Anthony Branch and just completed her sophomore year at the University of Mississippi.

She will be the first Miss Mississippi to compete in the Miss America Organization’s revamped program, where contestants will no longer face a swimsuit competition, and although complete details of the exact changes have not been released, she said, she welcomes the reforms.

“I am glad we are growing and developing. This is an organization to empower women and empowered women empower women, and so I hope to continue to grow and develop myself and empower others through this organization,” Branch said.

And one way Branch is hoping to embolden others is through her platform, Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents.

“My platform is something near and dear to my heart,” Branch said, since her father is serving time at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and she said she hopes by telling her story, it will have a positive impact on others.

“I sincerely want to leave an image that you should not be ashamed of your story, but to embrace it regardless of what it is. It has shaped you into the person that you are and it is strengthening you whether you realize it or not.”

Branch said she has always been a daddy’s girl, so this situation definitely has had an impact on her life.

“I always leaned on him,” Branch said, “And he was and still is an incredible man and he is very caring and compassionate.

“You know we all make mistakes, and some are just worse than others and you get caught up and have to suffer the consequences and I completely understand that,” she said.

Branch said her father received a fair trial and feels everything happens for a reason.

“This circumstance just so happened to give me a platform and a voice to speak out for others. I am doing something that I never imagined that I would ever be doing in my life. But I have seen the impact that it has had on the lives of so many, and I want to continue to do that,” she said.

While serving as Miss Mississippi and if crowned Miss America, Branch said, she wants to meet with as many children and families as possible, who share her story.

“Just to be a listening ear and share my story and help them to embrace theirs and grow from it. I have gone into jails previously and spoken to parents and would like to continue doing that and reach as many jails throughout our state as possible,” she said. “And share with the parents that their impact really does make a difference in their child’s life, and we need to end the generational cycle of incarceration.”

Branch said she has had the opportunity to visit her father, but because of distance and finances, recent visits to Parchman have not occurred.

When asked if she thought he watched her be crowned Miss Mississippi, she said, “I have been wondering that. I really hope that he was. He has always been a very huge supporter of mine. He says, ‘I am always bragging on you,’ so I really hope he was able to watch.”

Miss America competitions will be held from Sept. 5 through 7 with the final competition on Sept. 9 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and with just a little over five weeks to prepare, Branch said, she is looking forward to the challenge.

“Tough competitors are always a motivator and it pushes you to do your best and makes you want to do better than you did yesterday,” she said. “And I tell myself every day, be the best version of yourself and be better than you were yesterday. I think there is always room for improvement, and I want to continue to grow throughout the remainder of my life, even outside of the pageant world or competition world,” Branch said, “because seeing others do well pushes me to do better.”

For today, Branch said she was taking one day at a time.

“I am still just living in the moment and trying to soak it all in. I hope this year doesn’t fly by because I want to enjoy every second of it.”