Cheslie Kryst is a lawyer from Charlotte, North Carolina who took home the title of Miss USA 2019. Kryst has always fostered greatness into all she does, and this was exemplified when she earned two law degrees from Wake Forest University as a magna cum laude. Beyond those achievements, she was also a Division 1 athlete while studying at USC for her bachelor’s degree.
As a stunning role model, to further support other powerful women, Kryst adds her own spunk to the beauty and publication scene by running, “White Collar Glam.” Her blog aims to inspire readers to find workwear fashion that is “appropriate, affordable [and] professional.” The inspiration for the site derives from Kryst’s own experience of finding the right clothing to wear as a law professional.
Miss USA 2019 also has a loyalty to the community and serves on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Carolinas. The organization helps children understand and know their potential to help them reach the best possible futures. Kryst also regularly volunteers at Dress for Success Charlotte.
LASM: Tell us a little bit about your voice and what is the legacy that you’d like to leave for future generations?
Cheslie Kryst: What I want future generations to be able to do is not have to worry as much about tokenism. That’s something that women [in general] and women of color specifically deal with often —— especially in leadership positions. It’s so seldom that you see very many of us at a table, in executive leadership, boardrooms, and courtrooms specifically. I witnessed that as an attorney when I was in North Carolina. So, you often feel like there can only be one of us.
Being part of this great dynasty of women of color, five of us holding national and international [beauty pageant] titles all at the same time, helped to destroy some of that. In addition to people seeing that there can be more than one of us at a time, it’s also important that people see how diverse each of us are in our own way.
LASM: How does it feel to represent women of color at this time?
Cheslie Kryst: It’s a weighty kind of pressure in that women of color are so diverse. We have so many different interests. So, it’s hard to deem one person a representative for all of us. It’s been exciting to give a voice to concerns that a lot of us have had about being underrepresented in business, fashion, politics, and leadership.
LASM: From the perspective of an attorney, what do you think people should know about systemic issues?
Cheslie Kryst: What more people need to know about are the racial and economic inequities that our justice system perpetuates. Because typically, and I’ve seen as an attorney, if you enter the criminal justice system, and you are a person of color or a person of low socioeconomic status, or you don’t have a lot of money, typically, you’re going to get the short end of the stick. And more people need to know that, because there are people who have this idea that if I’m Black and I go into the courtroom, things are going to be unfair for me. But, they don’t always see specific statistics that demonstrate that Black people and people of color, and poor people aren’t treated the same. And that this feeds the general ignorance about our criminal justice system and how we can work to change it. Educate yourself about what’s happening by watching documentaries, like “13th.”
By reading books like “Just Mercy,” “The New Jim Crow” and “White Fragility” are all important so that you can better understand what’s happening. I think the FBI released statistics within the last five years that said that if you are a White man in this country, you have a one in 17 chance of being arrested at some point in your life. However, if you are a Black man in this country, you have a one in three chance of getting arrested at some point in your life. And that’s huge. That’s a huge disparity because people need to know about these statistics. They need to know what’s happening. They need to know about the historical origins —— why it’s this way and how they can insert themselves into the process. If they know about those things, they’ll be more diligent and use more discretion when choosing local leadership that can actually make a difference. Your mayor, police, and council members, people who make decisions locally can change things going forward in your own communities.
LASM: That’s powerful. Cheslie, this idea of tokenism, can you tell me what impact it has had on you?
Cheslie Kryst: Especially in pageants, there’s this idea of tokenism. I mean, obviously, you see tokenism in many areas of life, but especially in pageants. If you have your top cut at the state or at the nationals, you’re top 15 or your top 10 for example, if there are other Black women in the competition, you have a narrow shot of more than one of you making it into the finals. It’s just a pattern that you see over and over again.
You often feel like you’re competing against other women of color or competing against other Black women, rather than just being yourself and trying to earn a title that you think you deserve. And we don’t always have the chance as Black women, especially to always have the chance to just be individuals or be unique. Because we’re constantly grouped together as just Black women, rather than just being Cheslie, a person who is unique and has their own unique interests. You always have to differentiate yourself from the rest of the people so that you can be that one token person to make it into finals. So, seeing me and Nia and Kaliegh and Toni-Ann and Zozi all at once, it was important because it demonstrated to people that you can still win if you’re the best. If you go into a competition and you’re the best, you can still win. Even if there are other Black women who won before you. Even if there are other Black women who are currently holding similar titles at the same time. If you’re the best, you’re the best. It’s important for people to see that because too often we have seen over and over again, only one of us can make it at one point in time. It was a groundbreaking, exciting moment in history to be a part of.
LASM: Diving into fashion a little bit, who are some of your favorite designers?
Cheslie Kryst: I would say Kimberly Goldson is an incredible designer. I watched her when she was on Project Runway. I’ve worn a piece or two of hers at different events. Badgley Mischka is another. Ralph & Russo —— I’ve never worn one of Ralph & Russo suits before, but oh, my God, they’re amazing. I would say Vince Camuto have amazing shoes. I have way too many of them in my closet and will probably continue to hoard their shoes.
LASM: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Cheslie Kryst: Becoming an attorney and passing the North Carolina and South Carolina bars.
LASM: What texts do you recommend right now?
Cheslie Kryst: I mentioned “The New Jim Crow.” I recently bought the 10th-anniversary edition of the book. The author, Michelle Alexander, wrote a new foreword to “The New Jim Crow” because so much had changed in the 10 years since when she published the book. So, I really liked that book. People should definitely read it, especially the 10th-anniversary edition be-cause it adds context —— she adds things that she predicted would change. And I talked about [how] “Just Mercy” was really, really great. Our president of the Miss Universe Organization recommended “The Confidence Code.” It was a life-changing book, because there are so many studies, so many examples, and information that demonstrate how confidence affects performance, especially when it relates to women. Too often, people don’t expect very much from women, especially when it comes to professional settings. That adds feeling the imposter syndrome and that adds to our own lack of confidence sometimes in our own skills, even though we are oftentimes over-prepared for [the] positions that we’re in.
“It’s exciting as an attorney to be able to witness this while I’m Miss USA because many of these issues were issues when I was in law school; and when you’re in law school, you have this sort of idea that you’re going to practice law and you’re going to be saving lives and changing the world. Then you start practicing law, [but] you don’t see that all the time. Or you realize that there are so many of you [and] often, your voice gets mixed in with this giant crowd and many of the things that you find valuable, people don’t always hear about. So, now I’m getting to be an attorney, and having this huge platform being a part of the Miss Universe Organization. It’s so exciting that finally, I get to talk about some of the things that I was talking about in law school. And [that] people are hearing and listening and learning all at the same time. So, that is a blessing. It is exciting for me. Going forward, I hope to continue to share messages that people need to hear about — Black Lives Matter and about changes. We need to see the existence of systemic racism and White privilege. And how each of us, not just people of color, can add our voices to the mix and hopefully continue to change and make progress in many areas that we haven’t seen much change or progress in the last few years.”-Cheslie Kryst
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