How do you spell bravery? Cicely Tyson: Woman of Courage. She did things others didn’t do, went places others didn’t go and stood up for things others remained silent. With all of her courage, she was a lady of grace.


Cicely Tyson, woman of courage was a role model to many.

Cicely Tyson spoke to me for the first time in the movie The Autobiography of Jane Pittman. It did not take a theatrical genius to recognize I was watching acting at its best! Remembering this, was what made this writer’s desire to write an article about her that did not give a list of the awards she won, the movies she played in, but one that measured the steps she took to be able to do all of those things. As important as they are, they measured what she did and not who she was. Ms. Tyson knew who she was!


Recognizing that she said, “Unless a piece said something, I had no interest in it. I have got to know I served some purpose here.” The purpose is passing on a value, attribute or belief that will help shape the lives of someone else. She knew that mattered. Having the understanding to play the role of Jane Pittman did not begin with the first time she read the script, it began with the number of times at nine years old, she walked the streets of Harlem and sold shopping bags to help her welfare mother put food on the table. Courage and stamina do come from “a bed of roses,” it comes from doing things when you are afraid, things that tell you to humble yourself and do it, even if you feel uncomfortable doing it. There are also times you do it because it is the right thing at the time.


The writer relates this to a $12.50 weekly job she had in an ice cream parlor when on a hot, summer day she hand-packed a quart of ice cream for a man, who because he did not eat it or refrigerate it . . . it melted. He returned with it stating she had failed to fill the carton to the brim. She knew that was a lie and told him so (without fulfilling his request). He left, called the manager and returned and in the presence of the manger and him, she had to re-pack the carton with ice cream . . . that was a lesson in humiliation that enabled her to build character.


It took bravery to drink from a fountain for "white only."  Jane Pittman did.
(Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Cicely Tyson could become Jane Pittman in the Jim Crow south because she understood how to rise above humiliation and do the right thing. As the mother of Kunta Kinte in the movie Roots, she instilled in him pride, fortitude and self-respect which enabled him to rise above slavery with his bravery intact. He knew he was not “less than” his master, even when all he saw around him amplified he was! Material things do not build character, dignity, self-esteem and digging deep into the soul, build character. One wonders how seemingly brilliant educated people allow fear, greed knock them off of their moral path. Education does not ensure character, it simply gives human knowledge. Character reaches beyond the material into the divine.


Cicely Tyson, woman of courage knew it was not about awards.  It was about doing the right thing!


Ms. Tyson could place numerous awards on her mantle: Oscar nomination for best actress in the movie Sounder, but it was not the award in hand that was significant to her, it was communicating the struggle of a mother raising a young boy whose imprisoned father was a victim of racism in the south. She had to communicate the difference between sealing a ham to feed his family, from being a common thief. She had to communicate that in spite of the so-called “sins of the father,” the son had to get the best education he could because that was his pathway out of poverty. To do that, the actress had to understand what that really meant. She understood it because she had lived it. It takes a strong parent to instill in a child that when the world says you are “less than,” know in your heart you are “more than” that lie. Lies do not destroy, it believing them that destroys!