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The Legacy of Cheslie Kryst

When I think of Cheslie Kryst, I think of the beautiful, exuberant queen who brightened our lives with her signature curls and go-getter attitude. Cheslie was a force. Her flame burned so brightly that it seemed as if it would never go out.

On January 30, 2022 our world lost one of the brightest, most determined, and most renowned role models to women in recent history. The grief that struck the pageant community was felt internationally and deeply. It says something about who Cheslie was and the impact she left on this earth that so many people all over the world have come together to grieve this great loss. While Cheslie was a role model for so many, her death should be a reminder to us all that mental health matters and depression is a disease that can take the lives of the most beautiful, smart, and kind souls.

Who Was Cheslie Kryst?

Cheslie Kryst left a legacy of kindness and accomplishment that will forever be a part of the pageant community. Before she ever set a heel on the pageant stage, Cheslie was a queen of many different worlds.

Born in 1991, Cheslie was one of six children and spent her childhood in North Carolina before her family relocated to South Carolina where she graduated from highschool. After high school, Cheslie attended the University of South Carolina where she was an acclaimed member of the Gamecock’s women’s track and field team. While attending USC Cheslie was also a member of Alpha Lambda Chi honor society and graduated Cum Laude in 2013 with a degree in marketing and human resource management. After all of her success in her undergraduate career, Cheslie was on to her next goal, law school. She enrolled at Wake Forest University School of Law where she graduated with her Juris Doctor and a Master of Business degree.

Shortly after graduation, Cheslie became a licensed attorney in both North and South Carolina practicing complex civil litigation. However, Cheslie’s passion for giving back did not originate from her time in the pageant world. Instead, she began giving back to the community by working pro bono for clients dealing with low-level drug offenses to help them pursue the second chance we all deserve in life. She also did pro bono work for Brittany K. Barnett of the Buried Alive Project to help free a client sentenced to life in prison unjustly. Cheslie was the founder of a fashion blog called White Collar Glam, which was a blog dedicated to giving women tips on how to dress professionally, but stylishly, while working white-collar jobs. One of Cheslie’s notable quotes states that “Women can break glass ceilings either a skirt or pants.”

Cheslie’s Rise to the Miss USA Crown

Cheslie’s story to the coveted Miss USA crown is one of grit, determination, and a vision. The daughter of a former Mrs. North Carolina America, you could say that the apple did not fall far from the tree. Cheslie was bitten by the pageant bug in highschool when she was crowned Miss Freshman at Northwestern High school. Before finishing out high school, Cheslie added another crown to her pageantry portfolio with the title of Miss Fort Mill High School. After graduating, Cheslie wanted to keep going. She competed in the Miss America Organization for some time in North Carolina before finding her perfect fit within the Miss Universe Organization at the Miss North Carolina USA pageant. In 2016, Cheslie competed for Miss North Carolina USA 2017 and placed fourth runner up on her first try. With so much success on her first go, she knew she had to try again. So, she came back with even more determination than ever and a new dream on her heart. The next year Cheslie completed where she placed top ten. Despite not placing as high or higher than the previous year, Cheslie did not give up on her goal. The following year, representing Metrolina, Cheslie Kryst became Miss North Carolina USA 2019. At the Miss USA 2019 competition, Cheslie Kryst wore a heavenly white gown, her signature curls, and a smile that said “It is me, I am your winner.”

That night, Cheslie became the third contestant from North Carolina to be crowned Miss USA and at 28 years old she was the oldest woman to ever earn the title. Cheslie went on to place top ten in the world at the annual Miss Universe Competition. During her year of service Cheslie became a part of history again when 2019 became the first year in history that all six major pageantry titles were held by black women: Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA; Nia Imani Franklin, Miss America; Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe; Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA; Natalie Winslow, Mrs. America, and Toni Ann Singh Miss World.

Throughout her time as a titleholder, Cheslie taught us all the importance of using our voice to make a change. She volunteered for organizations like Smile Train and Dress for Success and many more. Cheslie enchanted the world with her smile and bright personality while maintaining her world knowledge and empathetic heart. To count all of the people who Cheslie inspired during her year as Miss USA would be impossible as the number is limitless. Before crowning her successor, Asya Branch, Cheslie made history one more time as the Miss USA who served the longest, 557 days to be exact. And guess what, we would have kept her for longer if we could.

Life After the Crown

After hanging up her crown and sash, Cheslie continued to make a splash in the entertainment industry as a correspondent for Extra, interviewing A-list celebrities from Taylor Swift to Oprah Winfrey. Cheslie continued to be an advocate for women and specifically women of color and used her platforms to raise awareness for those who may not have as loud of a voice. Cheslie was an influencer, fashion icon, beauty queen, accomplished attorney, philanthropist, athlete, daughter, sister, and friend. But, despite a life that may have seemed perfect to the naked eye, Cheslie was battling a much darker reality behind closed doors. Cheslie Kryst died by suicide after suffering from high functioning depression that even her closest confidant, her mother, was not aware of. Depression does not discriminate and all too often we think that it could never happen to a person who seems to have it all as Cheslie did. The loss of such a bright and positive soul like Cheslie Kryst is devastating, but from the pain I hope our society can come together and have more real conversations on mental health and what we can do better to destigmatize getting help and educate ourselves on the signs and symptoms of these diseases.

Rest in power and peace, Cheslie Kryst. Thank you for inspiring us with the incredible legacy you have left behind. Your iconic era on this earth will never be forgotten. If you or someone you know is suffering from their mental health, call 800-273-8255 to reach experts at the National Suicide Hotline.

photo: Fadil Berisha Photograpghy

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