By Hope Yancey
Photo courtesy of “The Miss Universe Organization.”
Cheslie Kryst was born in Jackson, Mich., moved to Charlotte at about age 4, then South Carolina as a teenager. She graduated from high school and college in South Carolina, before earning law and MBA degrees at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and returning to Charlotte to practice law.
Now, the attorney and pageant winner is living outside the Carolinas in New York City, while she completes her reign as Miss USA 2019 and works as a correspondent for the TV program “Extra.”
Kryst spoke with Pride Magazine by phone recently from the offices of The Miss Universe Organization in midtown Manhattan. She represented the United States at the Miss Universe pageant in December 2019, placing in the top 10 finalists.
Kryst, 28, is aware that she is a role model for young women and girls. “I think it’s one of those things that’s constantly in the front of my mind,” she says. Setting an example is not new to her, as she has four younger brothers; the youngest is 10 years old. She also has an older sister.
Being a role model “doesn’t always have to be something that’s overly filtered. Really, it’s just me being my authentic self,” Kryst says. “But making sure that that authentic self is positive, and just real.”
Presenting a good outward appearance is part of it. Kryst started a style blog called White Collar Glam. Her posts have a substance and depth that transcends fashion. Some writings address women’s empowerment and natural hairstyles for women of color in the workplace.
“I just don’t think that you should be prohibited from wearing your hair the way that it grows out of your head,” Kryst says. She remembers the discomfort of chemically relaxing her hair in her earlier years.
Kryst references the CROWN Act. It’s legislation enacted, or under consideration, in states around the country to prevent discrimination in employment, housing or education based on hairstyle or hair texture, according to a website for the movement.
Serving as an ambassador for Dress for Success is a logical extension of Kryst’s interests. She volunteered for the local group in Charlotte, which empowers women to reach economic independence through professional business attire and other tools, according to its mission statement.
The national organization learned about her and created an opportunity for her to travel to affiliates in different cities to speak and lend support. She’s visited Raleigh, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Ohio, Memphis and other locations.
Another cause she cares about is Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, on whose national board she sits. Her interest began when she volunteered for a similar program run by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, called Senior Academy, while she was a law student. For three years, she mentored high school seniors at risk of not graduating. All three women finished school, she says.
Championing the arts also is important to Kryst. She serves on the Millennial Advisory Board of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. “I’m smiling right now, because I love that board,” she says.
When she was growing up, her mother, April Simpkins, insisted she and her siblings learn a musical instrument. Kryst chose the violin. Photography provides an additional creative outlet.
Criminal justice reform is another passion. Reading the book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson after law school influenced her. “It really changed my view on our justice system, and it made me angry, and also passionate about helping people who really needed it,” Kryst says. She took on pro bono legal cases for low-level drug offenders.
Her career with the law firm Poyner Spruill in Charlotte involves complex civil litigation cases, according to a profile on the firm’s website. Kryst has been on leave during her pageant duties. “I’m constantly overwhelmed by how supportive they are,” she says.
Visit www.whitecollarglam.com to read Cheslie Kryst’s blog.