Remembering Miss USA 2019

Cheslie Kryst leaves behind a legacy

A sister. A daughter. An attorney. A friend. A correspondent. A mentor. An inspiration. Cheslie Kryst was all these things and more before she took her life on Jan. 30. 

The 30-year-old social justice activist was crowned Miss USA as Miss North Carolina in 2019. Her crowning made history: she, and four other women (Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss World and Miss Universe) were the first group of Black women to ever hold all major pageant titles at the same time. Miss Universe, Zuzibini Tunzi, wrote on her Instagram “I am devastated…You meant everything to so many people and you forever will.” Kryst had made it into the top 10 in the 2019 Miss Universe pageant and was close to Tunzi, hosting a Facebook Live session and appearing on numerous talk shows together.

“You made a mark in this World and touched so many lives. We celebrate your life,” Tunzi added on her touching Instagram tribute to Kryst.

Kryst was a civil attorney, administering pro-bono work for prisoners to reduce their sentencing, according to Associated Press. She not only held a degree from the University of South Carolina, but also an MBA and a law degree from Wake Forest University because “why stop at two degrees when you can have three,” wrote Kryst in a 2021 Allure essay. She was working to make the world a better place by dedicating her life to advocacy and being the representation she needed to see in the world. From her muscular build (and former athletic career) to her natural curls, she was not what people expected, but Kryst challenged the status quo and fulfilled her dreams. “I did what I wanted rather than the expected,” wrote Kryst.

PHOTO COURTESY/ YouTube extratv

She won the title of Miss USA at 28-years-old, the oldest in history to win. However, she saw turning 30 as a roadblock than another achievement in her blossoming life. “Society has never been kind to those growing old, especially women,” she wrote in her Allure essay. It was a constant battle against societal expectations but she was determined to fuel her passion of fighting for justice and “searching for joy and purpose on [her] own terms.” 

Unfortunately, something changed in Kryst’s positive, resilient attitude that led her to suddenly switch paths and cut her remarkable journey short. The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, after an autopsy, ruled her death a suicide from jumping from her Manhattan apartment building, according to CNN. Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins confirmed what Kryst was struggling with before her death in a heartfelt statement. “In her private life, she was dealing with high-functioning depression which she hid from everyone,” said Simpkins. 

We can all learn from Kryst’s empathetic nature and social work to be a better version of ourselves and stay true to ourselves. Simpkins described her daughter as a “ball of sunshine wrapped in smiles,” so let’s continue to remember her that way when celebrating her legacy.

***St. John’s University offers support during a mental health crisis. Students can contact the Center for Counseling and Consultation at 718-990-6384. For the After Hours Helpline call 718-990-6352. For more information visit the webpage here. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).