Cheslie Kryst died on Sunday in New York City, where she had been a correspondent for the television show “Extra.” She was a 2019 Miss USA winner and a correspondent for “Extra.” Her age was 30.
According to The Washington Post, Cheslie Kryst was pronounced dead after apparently jumping from an apartment building in Manhattan in the early morning hours of Sunday. In a statement, Kryst’s family confirmed the news.
“In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie,” the statement said. “Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength. She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined. Cheslie embodied love and served others, whether through her work as an attorney fighting for social justice, as Miss USA and as a host on EXTRA. But most importantly, as a daughter, sister, friend, mentor and colleague — we know her impact will live on.”
As opposed to most pageant queens, Cheslie Kryst already had a successful professional career when she won Miss USA in 2019. Having earned her law degree and an MBA from Wake Forest University, Kryst worked as an attorney when she competed in Miss USA 2019. With her outstanding resume and stage presence, she dazzled judges and won legions of fans, and her victory was a highlight of an exciting year in which Black women won all five major beauty pageants. According to Refinery 29, Cheslie Kryst wore her crown on top of her natural curls in an effort to encourage other women to feel confident wearing their hair natural.
In “There She Was,” a history of the Miss America pageant published last year, Post editor Amy Argetsinger wrote that the moment marked a triumph for the “movement of African-American women trying to overturn the rigid old beauty standards that forced generations into the painful conformity of flat-ironing or chemically straightening their hair.”
A Post columnist wrote that the crowning of Kryst could be a way to ensure that “stereotypes can be corrected and misunderstandings changed.”
As a pageant winner, Kryst was praised by then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who praised her and her fellow nominees: “You are trailblazers, creating your own path on your own terms. Congratulations.”
Cheslie Kryst did not shy away from potentially inflammatory subjects during the Miss USA contest Q&A session, addressing the #MeToo movement and other social justice initiatives head-on.
“I don’t think these movements have gone too far,” Kryst said then. “What #MeToo and #TimesUp are about are making sure that we foster safe and inclusive workplaces in our country. As an attorney, that’s exactly what I want to hear, and that’s exactly what I want for this country.”
After she won, Kryst joined “Extra” as a correspondent, someone the nationally syndicated show’s producers praised as “a moment-making machine.”
“Our hearts are broken,” the show’s staff said in a statement after her death. “Cheslie was not just a vital part of our show, she was a beloved part of our ‘Extra’ family and touched the entire staff. Our deepest condolences to all her family and friends.”
Born and raised in Michigan, Kryst moved to the Carolinas as a child. She went on to become a Division I track and field athlete and graduate from the University of South Carolina’s business school. She earned both her law and graduate degrees from Wake Forest University.
A former lawyer, Kryst has provided pro bono legal assistance to incarcerated individuals who are facing unjust prison sentences, once helping free a man facing life in prison for a low-level drug crime. Besides her work, she has a fashion blog dedicated to helping women find affordable workwear.
Tianna Tuamoheloa, another contestant in the Miss USA 2019 competition, told USA Today in an interview Sunday that Kryst “really did have a light about her.” She livedstreamed workout sessions with her mother after the pandemic started. Friends knew she had their backs even if they hadn’t spoken to her for a while, Tuamoheloa said.
The Associated Press reported at the time that Tuamoheloa was the first female contestant of Samoan descent to participate in Miss USA. The mixed-race actress has spoken of the joy and weight of representing many people as a “mixed girl on stage.”
“For anyone who is looking for a role model in pageantry, Cheslie would be that. Specifically for any Black girl who wanted to compete,” Tuamoheloa said. “She was our Miss USA.”
Tuamoheloa, representing Nevada at the national competition that year, remembers Kryst as a quiet, funny, and supportive individual who was always busy. In an active group chat, she kept in touch with other Miss USA contestants.
In Instagram posts on Sunday, other 2019 Miss USA contestants paid tribute to “Our sister, our friend, our role model, our Miss USA.”
“You were a vibrant, strong and beautiful light,” said the statement, signed by the pageant’s 2019 class. “You inspired us beyond measure. Your impact will be forever remembered.”
Tuamoheloa wrote of Kryst: “I have ALWAYS prided myself in saying that I shared not only a stage with you, but a sisterhood. You were historical. Graceful. Uplifting.”
“God knew what he was doing by blessing us to experience your beautiful, big-haired, bright beam of light,” she wrote.
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