Cheslie Kryst, an entertainment correspondent for Extra, former social justice attorney, and former Miss USA, was found dead in New York on Sunday at the age of 30.
Law enforcement officials confirmed Kryst had jumped from a high-rise building in Manhattan to the New York Post. The New York Police Department is currently investigating the circumstances of her death.
Earlier on Sunday, Kryst posted a photo of herself on Instagram with the caption, “May this day bring you rest and peace.”
In a statement, Kryst’s family wrote: “In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie. 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.”
Extra also released a statement regarding Kryst’s passing on their Instagram: “Our hearts are broken. 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.”
Kryst received her M.B.A. and a law degree from Wake Forest University and later joined the North Carolina law firm Poyner Spruill, where she practiced civil litigation. The firm said in a statement Sunday that Kryst “was a light that radiated every room she entered” and “a passionate advocate both in and out of the courtroom.”
A self-described mixed race Black woman, Kryst was determined to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who was the second Black Miss. North Carolina in the state’s history. In 2019, Kryst did just that and then some: Wearing her natural hair as a proud statement on her Blackness, Kryst won Miss USA. That year, Kryst—a former Division I athlete—was part of a quartet of Black women to make pageant history. For the first time, Black women held the titles for Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe simultaneously.
Two former Miss USAs who preceded Kryst penned emotional tributes to her life and legacy. Deshauna Barber, Miss USA 2016, wrote on her Instagram story:
“I will be completely honest with you all. The pageant world is a very brutal place and not everyone with a crown is actually a queen….queen meaning a person that is kind, compassionate, genuine, giving, hardworking, intelligent, and sisterly. Cheslie was the embodiment of a true queen. She set a bar that is impossible to reach. She was incredible.”
Kara McCullough, Miss USA 2017, posted a “Rest in Peace” message for Kryst that was accompanied by numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
As she detailed in an essay for Allure on turning 30, Kryst used her pageant platform to speak out on racial injustice, the legalization of marijuana, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, anti-abortion laws, and the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. “I openly supported the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and marched in protests over the summer,” she wrote.
She’d go on to appear in Colin Kaepernick’s Netflix series Colin in Black and White. In crowns and white gowns, Kryst and a fellow pageant winner march across a black set and stage, as Kaepernick recites: “Ideas about beauty are changing. In 2019 for the first time ever, all the world’s major beauty queens were Black. Maybe they didn’t want us to see our beauty, because they knew if we did, if we controlled our own narrative, we’d be unstoppable.”
At the time of her death, her profile photo on Instagram was a raised, clenched fist, symbolizing Black Lives Matter.
Perhaps the best way to remember Kryst’s light is to read her essays and blog, “White Collar Glam”— which promoted affordable workplace fashion—, listen to her speeches, and watch her wins. May she rest in power.