CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Queen City is mourning the loss of Cheslie Kryst, who was crowned Miss North Carolina and later Miss USA. The Charlotte attorney fought for social justice and was also an entertainment news correspondent.
Warning: Story contains sensitive subject matter
Kryst died Sunday. Police say she jumped from her building in New York. She was 30 years old.
Kryst grew up in the Carolinas and captivated the hearts of many. She is remembered for her bright smile, her beauty, and her strength. Her work as an attorney and community advocacy continues to inspire many.
“Cheslie was one of those people who just had a genuine, beautiful spirit... And you just, you fell in love with her at hello,” Portia Kee said.
Kee worked closely with Kryst on several charity and community events.
“During her Miss USA reign, she broke so many barriers even with curly hair, which was at that time, a first," Kee said. "There were a lot of barriers... and her confidence, her determination. I think, she competed three times before she won Miss North Carolina. She was determined to win. She was determined for success and she went after what she wanted.”
Her love for North Carolina was pretty apparent.
"She was proud to represent her state doing Miss USA," Kee said. "It was important, during her homecoming celebration when she won Miss USA title to come back and celebrate here throughout the whole week throughout the Carolinas."
Kryst got her law degree at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. She was licensed to practice law in both North and South Carolina. She was committed to fighting for prison reform.
“I planned her visit to the North Carolina legislature here in our state capitol," Kee said. "It was what we call a magical day for her. She stole everybody's hearts there on the floor. You know, it didn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican. Everyone was just impressed by her."
As an attorney, Kryst understood the importance of being independent and feeling confident in your look. She wanted women to feel empowered in the workforce and was very involved with Dress for Success Charlotte.
"Cheslie was one of the most effervescent people I ever met… she was always positive, she was always ready to take on the next task," Dress for Success Charlotte Executive Director Kerry Barr O'Connor said.
Kryst worked closely with the organization helping women present their best selves for professional settings through workshops and various events.
“Her involvement with the organization, as a woman of color, as a successful businesswoman was so important," Barr O’Connor said. "It really did help others who were struggling along the way.”
Dress for Success is dedicated to helping women advance in their careers and providing them the workforce development, professional attire, network support and tools they need to be successful at work and in life. Kryst became a global impact ambassador for the organization.
“She gave you that feeling that you were the only one in the room when she was having a conversation with you," Barr O’Connor said. "There might have been 200, 300 people waiting in line to meet her, but she gave you that incredible gift of 100% being present.”
Kryst touched the hearts of everyone she encountered and her message lives on.
“Just that you can reach for the stars, just surround yourself with the people that are going to help you get there, and then give back in the way you received," Barr O'Connor said.
The Fort Mill School District where she graduated high school shared this statement: "The district was saddened to learn of the passing of Cheslie Kryst, a former Fort Mill High School graduate. While she was well known because of her reign as Miss USA in 2019, to many of our Fort Mill staff she will be remembered as a sweet, well-liked girl named Ceci.”
Her family also released a statement saying in part, "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."
If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.