Cicely Tyson: Honoring the Life and Legacy of an Icon

I preordered Cicely Tyson’s memoir back in December, already knowing that her story would be one of the most profound I’ve ever heard.

I was beaming Tuesday morning when Audible notified me that my preorder was available. All my other books went to the back burner and I began binge listening, taking breaks of course to do mundane things like childcare and being a therapist, haha!

Tyson’s memoir, Just as I am, does not disappoint! What really rocked me to my core was that Ms. Tyson passed away just two days after releasing her life story.

Though it was eerie that I was listening to the book when a friend emailed me about Tyson’s passing, the irony is not lost on me that she published her book just as she was closing the last chapter of her 96-year-old journey of life.

I’ve admired Ms. Tyson since childhood as I saw her in numerous roles. You know how people have their celebrity grandparents? No? That’s just me? Well, she’s grandma to me.

Here’s what stood out the most to me in Just as I am:

  • When Ms. Tyson became a teen mom, she overcame all the odds that were stacked against her while still providing the best life she could for her daughter, Joan.
  • When Ms. Tyson became an actress, she vowed to only take roles that portrayed Black people with dignity. She kept that vow throughout a career that spanned seven decades.
  • I also learned that she was the first Black woman to wear her natural hair in an afro on television. This inspires me as I continue to navigate my own journey of embracing my natural hair. 

The last time I felt such grief over the passing of a beloved celebrity was in 2002 when Lisa “Lefteye” Lopes died in a car accident. This loss hurts just as deeply!

To grieve, I’ll continue to learn about her life through the book she left behind. I also rented “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” this weekend. I’m blown away by how Tyson portrayed an elderly woman (Jane Pittman) sharing with a  reporter about a life that spanned beyond a century, covering slavery, emancipation, sharecropping, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement. Why am I so blown away? Because Tyson’s life has imitated her art as she left us her own autobiography mere days before her passing.

I’m grateful for all the doors Cicely Tyson has opened throughout her 96 years. Her body of work will no doubt continue to model confidence, strength, courage, and unapologetic Blackness for generations to come.


My words barely scratch the surface of what Cicely Tyson has meant to me, so I’ll conclude with a few quotes from the book that resonated the most with me:

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