Cicely Tyson: 3 Stops On The Road To Legendary

Written by Aria Ellise, this article previously appeared on

Cicely Tyson is a living legend who has won multiple awards throughout her illustrious career on Broadway, in film, and in television. With such unforgettable roles as Kunta Kinte’s mother in the epic miniseries “Roots,” or her groundbreaking performance in “Sounder. And even recently, with roles in Tyler Perry movies, her recent Kennedy Center Honor, Broadway productions and even her role on the highly watched show “Scandal.”

Being 90 years old, Tyson has shown no signs of slowing down. With her half-century career, she’s learned a lot about staying relevant. Here are just a few gems that she wants to pass down to the next generation:

I. Command Respect
Don’t demand, command the respect you deserve. Years ago, as a young actress, Tyson says she was asked to meet a reporter at a prominent hotel for an interview. “I came in with my raincoat and a couple of other things, and I went to the check booth,” Tyson says. “She took one look at me and said, ‘Oh, we don’t take these here, you have to go around the back.’”

Tyson says she just looked at her and smiled. “I said, ‘Excuse me, but I was not going to ask you to take my coat and check it, which is your job,’” Tyson says. “‘I simply was going to ask direction. But I will take this moment to let you know, just in case you don’t, that every one of us that look like me are not all in a position of servitude.’”
This is what it all boils down to, Tyson says. “I don’t look for anything or ask for anything other than to be treated like a human being. That’s all.”

II. Never Rest on Your Laurels, No Matter What Age.
Tyson starred on Broadway in The Trip to Bountiful as Carrie Watts, for which she won the Tony Award, Outer Critics Award, and Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Play. She was the oldest winner of the Tony after a 30-year absence from Broadway, proving it’s never too late to continue growing and achieving in your career.
As young professionals progress, they should keep fresh by constantly challenging themselves, trying new things and expanding on the knowledge base and experiences you’ve been. It will keep you relevant and ensure you have a career legacy that’s second to none.

III. Don’t Fear The Unknown

Cicely Tyson has always heeded her mother’s words: Don’t expect anything, and you won’t be disappointed. From her birth, Tyson’s mother was always told that Cicely would be special and have a sixth sense. It was something that Cicely feared. Any time she had a bad feeling about someone in her family, it would come true. But it was her uncle that showed her how to use that concern for her family to help them care for them. She remembers to reach out to others, stay in contact no matter how busy she is, and give her friends and family what they need: love.