On January 28, 2021, the world learned that the legendary Cicely Tyson had made her transition from this earth. She began her career as a model before transitioning her beauty and talent to the stage. While the list of achievements and accolades that could be given for her performances are undoubtedly long, I would like to offer a different perspective of a life led with dignity that should serve as an example to each of us.
Her impact on the world can be seen through the millions of beloved fans she accumulated throughout long-lasting career. Whether you were drawn to her chiseled cheekbones and flawless skin or the way she commanded an audience through her many performances, Cicely Tyson carved a space in your psyche that demanded you remember her greatness. This impact inspired people across cultures and generations, but the trail she blazed for black women in the early 1970s just after the height of the Black Power Movement is undeniable. Her impact can be felt as she began to deliver to the world something that was rarely seen on the big screen, black women in a positive light. Her striking beauty began to chisel the negative image of black women away and create a space for us that was not previously available.
Through her roles, she was able to influence the image of black women and black people portrayed in film. It has been well documented that Ms. Tyson refused to accept a role just because it paid well. She once said, “In my early years, there were a number of experiences that made me decide I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress. There were a number of issues I wanted to address. And I wanted to use my career as a platform.” She did not want to just be an entertainer, she wanted to teach the world that black people contributed positively to society which was in stark contrast to the usual portrayals seen in films previously. Her decision to do so did not always result in a steady stream of work, but that did not deter her from holding steadfast to her principles. Her influence in the entertainment industry helped change the narrative of black people to the world and carved a space for her as well as all that came after her.
Whether it was the cover of a magazine, Broadway stage, television or the movie screen, Cicely Tyson inspired generations to be bold and beautiful while standing on one’s dignity. She encouraged people of all backgrounds to hold fast to their morals and lead a life that will not only benefit you but move others to change. Her decision to commit her career to portraying the humanity of black people through her characters showed the dignity and worth of every individual. Her life’s work changed the narrative of black people in the entertainment industry. At the age of 96, she wrote in her recently published memoir, Just As I Am, “I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” On the contrary and with all due respect to Ms. Tyson, her meaningful words and actions have been inspiring millions of us for decades.
Photo credit: PA MEDIA