There’s no doubt that Cheslie Kryst has traveled a path tailor-made just for her. Each detail of her journey to the crown likened to the preparation that goes into finding the perfect ensemble. Like any attire selection, Cheslie’s road to the crown started with a vision. She knew what she wanted and put her plan in motion. The intricate details of her story are not without a few tears at the seams and laden with pearls of wisdom from her mother. From the literal crown on her head, down to the heels on her feet; Cheslie’s journey came full circle as she was named Miss USA in Reno, Nevada on May 2nd.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Cheslie about her historic win, lessons she has learned as an attorney, her passion for fashion and more!
MP: I love how Gayle King referred to you, Nia Franklin (Miss America) and Kaliegh Garris (Miss Teen USA) as the “trifecta of black girl magic.” Your win marks the first time in history that black women hold all three major US pageant titles. What message do you hope this sends to little black girls?
CK: I hope they understand that they don’t have limits, that anything they want they actually can achieve and that there’s not a quota when it comes to achievements. You can have three accomplished women being national title holders and also be black women.
MP: In addition to being Miss USA, you’re a civil litigation attorney at Poyner Spruill. Was there a defining moment or someone in your life who influenced your decision to become an attorney?
CK: It’s something that I’ve always wanted to pursue. My personality is that I don’t mind getting into conflict if it’s necessary. I don’t mind talking to people and expressing my opinion, and I think that people around me trust me to represent them. When I was younger, I was always speaking on behalf of my siblings. When I was in undergrad, I was the mouthpiece for my friends and I when we needed something. People have always trusted me to advocate for them.
MP: Your mother was Mrs. North Carolina US. Did she influence your decision to enter the pageant world and what advice did she give you during the competition?
CK: I was definitely influenced by my mom. She introduced me to competing in pageants, and it’s because of her example that I decided to compete. She has given me so much advice that I could write a book. Because she was a state title holder, I always trusted her and trusted the feedback that she gave me.
I think the most helpful advice she gave me just before the pageant was when we were practicing, just running through some on-stage questions the morning of the Miss USA competition. I had a list of questions from one of my coaches. I worked with Pageantology; they are two former Miss USA title holders, Shandi Finnessey and Susie Castillo. My mom and I were reading over the questions, and she said, “be sure to think before you answer the questions.” I made sure from then on during that day that before I answered a question, I took a second, took a whole breath and thought about the question and formulated an answer rather than just speaking off the cuff and talking without an end in mind.
MP: I loved your NCBA Member in Focus feature where you shared that it took a few tries before you were crowned Miss North Carolina. Can you share a little bit about that journey and why it was so important for you to keep going?
CK: One of the things that I learned when I competed in track and field in undergrad was the power of perseverance. As a Division I athlete, I started in the heptathlon and competed in that event for two years, was injured and the following year I came back and decided to switch events and continue competing and finish out my career at the University of South Carolina. Every year, my teammates and I would compete, and it was important to each of us to continue improving our performance each time that we competed. I think that is what kept me going. When I was in undergrad, you competed every year regardless if you were terrible or you were injured last year- that’s fine. You were going to come back next year, and you were going to try for the same thing. So, I was used to that.
When it came to competing in pageants I felt the same way—it’s okay if I didn’t win last year, that doesn’t mean that I can’t win this year and I’m just going to keep improving until I reach my goal.
MP: I can’t talk to you without mentioning your blog, White Collar Glam. What is the inspiration behind your blog?
CK: When I was in law school, I competed in a trial team competition. I was on the trial team for Wake Forest, we won our regional competition, and we were going to nationals. I remember traveling to nationals; I brought three suits with me. We competed in a courtroom that didn’t have air conditioning, so I sweat through my first suit. It was fine because I had two more suits. The next day, we were walking across the street to the courthouse, and I hopped up on the curb, and I split my skirt all the way up the back. So, I was two suits down, and my last suit was already too big for me, and I was losing weight, so the suit was literally falling off of me. There I was at Nationals without a suit to wear.
I remember having feelings of desperation and discouragement and I wanted there to be a resource that you could look to that would tell you where to find a suit, how to fit it, what’s appropriate, what’s not and places you could find suits at different price points. Because I couldn’t find one that I liked, I decided to make my own site and when I graduated from law school that’s exactly what I did.
MP: You have been able to merge your passion for fashion into an opportunity to give back. Can you tell me a little bit about your work with Dress for Success Charlotte?
CK: When I was still working with Dress for Success Charlotte, I helped them with fundraisers at events and convinced my firm to donate money and did a few clothing drives. As Miss USA, I hope to continue advocating just in a different way, by ensuring that we increase brand awareness and recognition for the organization. I get a chance to talk to people about what I’ve done and what they can do and hopefully, get an opportunity to speak more directly with Dress for Success and their corporate headquarters about how I can make an impact.
MP: One of the things that we are beginning to address more in the legal community is health and wellness. You know firsthand how stressful the profession can be. How do you balance everything and manage stress without becoming overwhelmed?
CK: I have to make sure that I do two things. 1) I have to make time for me and make sure that I get the time and space that I need just to be me. I am naturally an introvert, and after a really long day of being on and talking to people and representing this organization, I need time just to sit down and have a break, so I have to be mindful of that. 2) I have to make sure that I give myself a level of grace and know that maybe today wasn’t a great day, and it’s okay. I have to remember not to beat myself up and forgive myself rather than being a perfectionist and being way too hard on myself. Those two things have really helped.
MP: You are so down to earth and so easy to talk to; I feel like I am talking to an old friend. How do you stay grounded?
CK: My family. Every time I go home, I’m just Cheslie. It’s nothing to be home, and my mom says, “hey can you throw these dishes in the dishwasher for me while you’re at the house.” Or my dad will ask me to help him run some errands or something. That’s just a reminder that this title is something that I’ve worked for and it doesn’t change who I am. I’m still just Cheslie, and I still have the opportunity to help people, and now I’m able to help people as Miss USA.
MP: What lessons have you learned as an attorney do you carry with you in other areas of your life?
CK: One of the things that I appreciate is that when I was sworn in, in both North Carolina and South Carolina, one of the things that you say when you’re sworn in is you talk about the level of importance that you have as an attorney. People have to trust you, you have to maintain attorney-client privilege, and you have to be serious about keeping things confidential when it’s necessary and be honest and forthcoming when necessary.
All of those things are really important, and as an attorney, I took all of those oaths and promises very seriously, and I apply it to other areas of my life. If my friend is telling me something they want to be kept confidential, I have to make sure that they understand that when they tell me something I am going to keep it a secret. When I promise my boss something, I’m going to keep that promise. Being an attorney taught me all of that. I try to maintain that level of trust and honesty and high ethical standards in all areas of my life.
MP: Speaking of other areas of your life, I want to know some fun facts about you. I want to know your “five faves.”
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Snack: Insomnia Cookies
Favorite Movie: The Devil Wears Prada
Favorite Song or Music Artist: Beyoncé
Favorite Book: It’s a tie between the Confidence Code and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
MP: If you could name this chapter of your life, what would it be called?
CK: I would say, “Becoming,” but Michelle Obama has already taken that. I would have to call it celebrating.
I can’t think of a more fitting title for this exciting chapter as she advances to the Miss Universe competition. When asked about Miss Universe preparations, she answered, “I’ve been thinking about what kind of dress I would wear for a while now so I’m getting that more solidified." Whatever her final competition look, her journey has already proven to be one perfectly stitched together with perseverance and confidence.