On Thursday, the 28th of January, we lost an icon. A death that touched not only me, but many. In the words of Time Magazine 2012 and 2017, Cecily Tyson was one of “the 100 most influential people in the world”. Seeing her jovial, warm and inviting face on TV screens over the years really made me feel at home. Although she is no longer here, she lived for 96 fruitful years and I am happy she managed to complete the memoir of her life just two days before her death.
Cicely was born in 1924, amid the Harlem Renaissance of New York. The Harlem Renaissance was a period where African American art and literature was revived. It is no wonder that Cicely was a star. She prided herself in being an actress and a fashion model. Her modelling career started when she was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine. After this discovery, Tyson dabbled in off-Broadway theatre a little bit before her pivotal role in film that would set her up for future roles. The movie was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and she played Portia. From this film she went on to play many other roles that really shaped the black community and tugged at the heart string of many. The films ranged from The autobiography of Jane Pittman, The help, The Rosa Parks story and many more. She even made memorable appearances in TV series such as House of Cards and How to Get away with murder. Throughout her lifetime she won many awards for her strong and moving performances, and in doing so paved the way for African Americans to follow.
Many notable people in the African American community have excellent recollections of her, starting with the first black First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama who said “I smile knowing how many people she inspired, just like me, to walk a little taller, speak a little more freely, and a little bit more like God intended.” Whoopi Goldberg added that she was “a power, a pillar of strength, clear about who she was, and how she was to be treated…and that never wavered.” In the words of Bryce Dallas Howard who was in the movie The help with her, Cicely Tyson was a “pioneer and an enlightened genius.” People from all industries had amazing words to say about her. Even those of us geographically and relationally distant from her are witnesses of her being those things.
In watching her for years and reading about her I have been inspired to handle myself in the industry I am working in with poise and to share my light with others, graciously. I have been inspired to never take what I think is below me and set my standards high. As mentioned by Oprah Winfrey, “She used her career to illuminate the humanity of black people. The roles she played reflected her values; she never compromised. I have been inspired to keep working even when society says I shouldn’t. I hope you have taken some lessons from watching her life also. Let us reflect and remember Cicely Tyson.”
Written by Lucy Gborie