Miss USA Cheslie Kryst challenged the status quo

Former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst had a radiant personality that was hard to ignore when she introduced a story or talked to a guest as part of her role as host on the entertainment TV news show Extra.

Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst stands in a hallway with her hands behind her back while wearing a red one-shoulder jumpsuit
Miss USA 2019, journalist Cheslie Kryst

CBS morning show host Gayle King called her “walking sunshine” and her former co-host on Extra, NFL analyst Nate Burleson remembers her as “sunshine personified,” — and that’s why they find it hard to believe she left the way she did or that she’s gone at all. 

When Kryst won the Miss USA pageant in 2019 it was a unique moment in history. For the first time three Black women held all three national pageant titles with Kaliegh Garris as Miss Teen USA and Nia Franklin as Miss America. That same year two more Black women claimed top international pageant titles with Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica becoming Miss World and Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa wearing the crown as Miss Universe 2019.

The two-time Emmy-nominated entertainment news host was also an attorney and an MBA. Kryst earned her law and business degrees at the same time. At one point she was hospitalized for days from fatigue due to non-stop work. She later became a mental health advocate and used her law degree to support important social issues.

King said she felt like she was punched in the stomach when she heard the news about Kryst. “Nobody saw this coming … She seemed to have it all.”

Burleson, who worked with Kryst on Extra before moving to CBS This Morning as co-host with King and Tony Dokoupil, called her an earnest and intelligent woman who “lived a life full of passion and determination. “This is a reminder,” he said, to “check on your strong friends.”

King said Kryst had a calendar full of things she was looking forward to doing this week, which makes it hard to understand why this happened. 

Kryst was a commentator at the recent Miss Universe pageant, a competition which she had also participated in as a contestant in 2019. She was on company boards, and she had a blog where she provided fashion inspiration and tips for dressing for work.

In a revealing article she wrote in March 2021 for Allure magazine, Kryst said that “turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes.” She won the Miss USA pageant when she was 28 years old, the cut-off age to qualify, and was the oldest contestant in its almost 70-year history. Pageant fans petitioned to have the age lowered after she won the title. 

She was trolled on social media for taking the crown while having a non-traditional body type and non-traditional views on social issues as a beauty contestant.

She said many people thought she shouldn’t have won the pageant being who she was, a Black beauty queen, only five-foot-six, with six-pack abs that she had gained competing as a track and field athlete. Add to that her mound of natural curls, which acted as a reminder “in a time when generations of Black women have been taught that being ‘too Black’ would cost them wins in the boardroom and on pageant stages. My challenge of the status quo certainly caught the attention of the trolls, and I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted comments on my social media pages that had vomit emojis and insults telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to be Miss USA or that my muscular build was actually a ‘man body.’

And that was just my looks. My opinions, on the other hand, were enough to make a traditional pageant fan clutch their pearls.”

In the pageant world women are not expected to have controversial opinions but Kryst shared her views on the legalization of marijuana, immigration policies, anti-abortion laws, the supreme court, criminal justice reform, openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement and marched in the recent summer of protests to bring about social equality.

New York authorities say she took her own life as her body was found in front of a high-rise apartment building on 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan on Sunday morning.

If you are in crisis, reach out to these national numbers:
Canada: Call 833-456-4566
United States: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to 741741.
InternationalOpen Counseling has a list of emergency numbers and suicide prevention hotlines for countries all over the world from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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