Former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst's memoir is published 2 years after her death. Her mom, April Simpkins, hopes 'people can learn from her story.'

April Simpkins believes her daughter's words can help others who are struggling.

April Simpkins, left, and her daughter, Cheslie Kryst, wearing the 2019 Miss USA sash and tiara.
April Simpkins, left, is opening up about her journey toward healing after the death of her daughter, Miss USA 2019, Cheslie Kryst. (Courtesy of April Simpkins)

April Simpkins was running late for an exercise class on the morning of Jan. 30, 2022 when she received a text from her daughter, Cheslie Kryst, a correspondent on Extra and former Miss USA 2019.

“First, I’m sorry,” the message began. “By the time you get this, I won’t be alive anymore, and it makes me even more sad to write this because I know it will hurt you the most….”

Simpkins immediately tried calling Kryst on her cellphone. Her daughter never picked up. Within hours, Simpkins was on a flight from North Carolina to New York City, where Kryst was living at the time. Desperate calls to the police for updates left minimal hope as the reality of Kryst’s words began to sink in.

When Simpkins arrived in NYC, her worst fears were confirmed. Her daughter had died by suicide. She was 30 years old.

A young Cheslie and April, both in overalls and hatted, seated on a bus during a school field trip in the early 2000s.
Kryst and Simpkins on a school field trip in the early 2000s. (Courtesy of April Simpkins)

The news of Kryst’s death in 2022 ignited nuanced conversations about depression and how it presents, prompting discussion on the often invisible struggles people face.

More than two years after her daughter’s death, Simpkins is sharing her story to help others who are silently struggling with mental health issues with the publication of Kryst’s posthumous memoir, By the Time You Read This: The Space Between Cheslie’s Smile and Mental Illness.

“It’s bittersweet,” Simpkins tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I wish she was here doing this instead, but she’s not able to do that. So I’m proud to do this on her behalf.”

The book is a combination of the manuscript written by Kryst before her death coupled with her mother’s own writings about grief and self-forgiveness. It chronicles Kryst’s innermost thoughts at the height of her career winning Miss USA 2019, which was the first time in history three Black women were crowned Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America in the same year.

The trifecta of Black beauty pageant winners in 2019, from left: Miss America, Nia Franklin; Miss Teen USA, Kaliegh Garris; and Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst.
The trifecta of Black beauty pageant winners in 2019: Miss America, Nia Franklin; Miss Teen USA, Kaliegh Garris; and Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst. (Courtesy of April Simpkins)

An attorney by trade who held degrees in law and business from Wake Forest University, Kryst is described by her mom as a bubbly person who shined onstage and on camera as an entertainment reporter. Few people knew she was hiding her loneliness and depression.

“There’s a subtleness to persistent depressive disorder,” Simpkins says. “It’s just always there. In her final text message to me, she said, ‘Depression is going to win this time around.’ When you read the book, you see the battle going on in her brain, those invasive thoughts, negative self-talk and feeling like she’s never enough."

In the book, Kryst explains that even after winning Miss USA, feelings of impostor syndrome never went away. “I was waiting for people to realize I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing,” she writes.

Despite those internal struggles, Kryst was intentional about using her quick wit and intelligence to dismantle false stereotypes about pageant queens.

“Cheslie fought very hard to be her authentic self,” says Simpkins. “As a Black woman competing with her natural hair. As an athlete, really showing off her muscular body. As a high achiever and intellectual, she did not shy away from telling people she took pageantry as seriously as she did her job as an attorney.”

Kryst also made a point to celebrate beauty of all shapes and backgrounds while working as a TV correspondent on Extra and at pageants, Simpkins says.

Cheslie crowns Lizzo during an Extra interview.
Kryst crowns Lizzo during an Extra interview in 2019. (Courtesy of April Simpkins)

Behind the scenes was a different story. In a 2021 article for Allure, Kryst wrote briefly about her eight-day hospital stay in 2015. Though she didn’t go into detail, Simpkins says that the hospitalization was following a failed suicide attempt. Before the article came out, Kryst called her mom about revealing the truth of the hospital stay in the magazine. In the end, she decided not to include it.

Simpkins vividly recalls that day in 2015 when she learned Kryst tried to take her own life. At the recommendation of doctors, she kept her daughter in the hospital against her will until she was in a better state. Simpkins struggled with “guilt and shame” over that decision for years until she read Kryst’s suicide note in 2022, which was found at her New York apartment.

Kryst addresses her mother in the note: “You’ve done nothing wrong and everything right,” it read. For Simpkins, those words offered closure.

“In my heart of hearts, I wondered if she forgave me for taking away control [during her first suicide attempt],” Simpkins says. “I was willing to live with that, even if it meant saving her life. And so, when she left that note and put that in there, I knew exactly what she was talking about. And it gave me peace.”

From left, Cheslie and April on New Year’s Eve 2020 in New York.
Daughter and mother on New Year’s Eve 2020 in New York City. (Courtesy of April Simpkins)

In 2023, Simpkins founded the Cheslie C. Kryst Foundation, which provides resources and grants to nonprofits that support mental health and wellness for teens and young adults.

“It’s a way to carry her legacy forward,” Simpkins says. “She was one of the most giving people I had ever met, and I don’t mean that monetarily. She gave her time.”

That includes the countless young girls Kryst mentored even while she was preparing for the bar exam or hitting the pageant circuit in full force. There were times when she missed family events to attend high school graduations for the teens she mentored.

“Cheslie writes a lot about connection in the book,” says Simpkins. “To be able to connect, that’s the greatest gift. That’s what I hope to do, what I hope people can learn from her story.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.