It is still hard to believe the regal, elegantly poised, dignified, Black-is-Beautiful Queen of Womanhood has made her transition. We pour libations in her honor and know she has done well in embodying the brilliance of her inner light. We thank you for having the courage to be "Just as you are" without apology.
We love you,
Those are the words written in our Afriware Books Co e-newsletter on Feb. 2, 2021. She made her transition on January 28, 2021. Hearing the news felt like learning that one of the tallest trees in the forest had fell. In the months and years to come, her name will be called again over and over again thus solidifying her eternal presence according to the African proverb, “As long as you speak my name, I shall live forever.”
Her memoir, “Just As I Am” was released just two days before her transition, and news spread like wildfire. Her first interview on the book was with Gayle King which occurred one week prior.
Books By or About Cicely Tyson
Celebrities come and go, but Ms. Tyson represented much more. In her decision to always select roles that depicted Black people in a positive light made her more of a prize fighter than an actress. When she won, we all won. When she played her roles, it seemed an unspoken understanding and agreement that she was speaking for all of us because we trusted she would make us proud. Some celebrities worry about being typecast in fear of being bypassed for other roles. Well, Ms Tyson leaned in to typecast herself into roles that showcased cultural pride. In standing her ground, she wears a crown of dignity.
When I started reading her memoir, I was immediately drawn in to her description of the prominent role spirituality played throughout. I’m using the word “spirituality” very deliberately. While she was an avid Baptist Pentecostal church goer, I still would not qualify her examples given as “religious.” They were not steeped in bible verses and accepted ritual. Instead, she revealed her signs of knowing her connection with the divine by the tingling of her skin when she read a role, for example. Or, when a total stranger stopped her mother on the street to tell her to make sure to take care of her because she was going to make her proud one day. She mentioned that later in life she started adding in practices from Buddhism (chanting) and other philosophies as she thought useful. In other words, she was not practicing the “my way or the highway” religion, but seeking the good in All. I admired her intimate sharing of this. Those who come by the store asking for books on spirituality are not seeking a magical incantation, but an affirmation and clarity of their own experience with a higher power. Tyson takes the woo-woo out of spirituality and adds back in the traditional African breadcrumbs that are left for us to decipher.
When the TV miniseries “Roots” came out in 1977, I will never forget the open tensions in the streets particularly the day after the scene that aired showing Kunta Kinte getting whipped mercilessly at the command of the slave master. I remember taking public transportation in grade school and wearing a scowl as if to admonish every white person I passed as presumed co-horts in the act. I added distance and silence between us as I tried to reconcile a society that seemed to condone this behavior by never apologizing for slavery. It was the first true-to-life depiction of what slavery was like for me and a lot of other people around the world. Ms. Tyson played Binta, the mother of Kunta Kinte. She embodied the character so well that I felt I knew what it was like to bring a child into this world. The series was riveting and Tyson earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress. Her appearance and portrayal planted her solidly amongst the upcoming stars in the industry.
Her memoir, "Just As I Am" is deeply personal and takes us behind Hollywood's curtain to reveal the events leading up to her pregnancy with her daughter, work as a model, and life with Miles Davis for example. Some information is so personal, I do not think I would have revealed it to my friends let alone write in a tell-all book. I must say that it added another star to her crown for me to have the courage to share some unflattering news. This added credibility in living up to the name of the book.
I leave you by saying that I give “Just As I Am” high marks for transparency and bravery to tell her truth. It is sure to empower women from all walks of life. IT also makes her an even bigger woman to spill all these beans and still proclaim, “Just As I Am.”
As always, if you’d like to know more, I encourage you to read for yourself and come to your own conclusions. All titles mentioned in this post are available from Afriware Books, Co, a Black-owned bookstore. If you do not find the title on the site, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer, I do not consider my self a religious person though I was raised within it. I appreciate and respect those who do choose to be because it brings them a sense of peace in an often hostile society.