With the crowning of Cheslie Kryst, Kaliegh Garris, and Nia Franklin, 2019 became the first year in American history that Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America were all African American women.
Cheslie Kryst, a 28-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, was crowned Miss USA in Reno, Nevada on May 2, 2019. As Miss USA, Kryst will represent the United States in the Miss Universe competition.
New Mexico’s Alejandra Gonzalez, the first runner-up, and Oklahoma’s Triana Browne, the second runner-up, helped highlight the diversity of the Miss USA competition on stage as the three finalists along with Kryst, who is African American.
Browne is a member of the Chickasaw Nation; her father is white and mother is African American. Gonzalez, an accountant whose mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico, is a first-generation Mexican-American. Nevada’s Tianna Tuamoheloa, who made it to the final five, is the first woman of Samoan descent to compete in the pageant, which began in 1952.
Kryst is a full-time attorney, licensed to practice law in two states. She earned both her law degree and MBA from Wake Forest University and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree from the Honors College at the University of South Carolina.
Kaliegh Garris, 18, from Connecticut was crowned Miss Teen USA in Reno, Nevada on April 28, 2019. The model proudly competed by rocking her natural afro. She previously used to straighten her locks and put in extensions, but Kaliegh decided her natural hair made her feel the most confident. The decision, she hoped, would promote diversity and inclusion in the pageants.
Garris attends two different high schools – one for academics and one for theater studies. Garris also started the movement, We Are People 1st, which was inspired by her older sister, who has several disabilities. Through her program, Garris educates others on ways to respectfully speak to individuals with health conditions and disabilities. She was recently recognized for her work by the Department of Disabled Services.
Nia Imani Franklin, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America 2019 in Atlantic City on September 9, 2018.
A classically trained opera singer, Ms. Franklin represented New York in the competition, focusing on equal opportunity and education in her interview questions.
Franklin said, “I want America to see that classical music is still alive and thriving, especially that an African American woman is singing opera. Because there’s so many kids out there that don’t know that they can do classical music.”
Franklin began composing music at only six years old, and since that time, she’s penned more than 100 songs. She earned her master’s degree in composition from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and she plans to work for her doctorate in music composition at either Juilliard or Princeton University.
These days, beauty pageants aren’t just about beauty—they’re about female empowerment and confidence, about shedding light on issues like mental health, diversity, and women in STEM.
In the words of Cheslie Kryst, “I can’t say pageants make you beautiful. I think they make your more confident in the person that you are.”