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Asya Branch, the first Black Miss Mississippi USA to win the Miss USA crown, will compete on the world stage for the title of Miss Universe Sunday.
The 69th Miss Universe competition will take place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood in Hollywood, Florida. The event will air live on FOX at 8 p.m. ET.
If Branch wins, she would be the first Mississippi native to ever hold the title and the first Miss USA to win the competition since 2012.
Branch, a Booneville, Mississippi, native, made history in November 2020 by being the first Mississippi representative to win Miss USA. She also made history when she became the first Black woman to be crowned Miss Mississippi USA in 2019.
Starkville native Shauntay Hinton was the first Black woman from Mississippi to win Miss USA in 2002, but she represented Washington, D.C., in that competition.
Becoming the first Black woman to win the title was an interesting experience for Branch because it was an historic moment, she said.
"I was so honored to have made history, but at the same time, I thought, 'Wow ...we're still having firsts,'" Branch said.
Branch, who also represented Mississippi in the separate Miss America pageant in 2018, has long been a criminal justice reform advocate.
Her platform of empowering children of incarcerated parents is very personal. Her father served a 10-year prison sentence and was absent for almost half her life. Helping children and getting them resources she didn't have is important to her, she said, but so is showing them they don't have to be a victim of their circumstances.
"It's really an honor to be able to set this example for young girls to know that they don't have to look like the person that came before them in order to accomplish their goal," she said.
Branch will compete against 89 other hopefuls in this year's competition. In 2019, Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi, was named the winner. The 2020 competition was canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
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This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Miss Universe 2021: Miss USA Asya Branch could make history again