Mayor Ted R. Green and the East Orange City Council extended their condolences to the family, friends, colleagues and loved ones of legendary and award-winning actress Cicely L. Tyson who passed away at the age of 96 on Jan 28. The pioneering actress was a staple within the East Orange Community, frequently visiting and supporting students of the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts, located at 35 Winans Street in East Orange, NJ.
“Cicely Tyson was the finest example of elegance, honor, grace and humility. She will always be remembered for living her life boldly and uncompromisingly. Her spirit of love and compassion is one that she selflessly shared with all of us here in East Orange and we are forever honored to have been a part of her extraordinary life,” said Mayor Green, who had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Tyson on several occasions over the past two decades.
In 1995, the East Orange Board of Education moved to rename Vernon L. Davey Junior High School located on Elmwood Ave to Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts. Tyson, who is not from East Orange and grew up in Harlem, accepted the offer on the condition that she could participate in school decisions, meetings, graduations and other events.
“You would be able to find her in classrooms every other week. The kids were so used to seeing her being here . . . it was like she was their teacher,” said Robin Lewis, who currently serves as Math Coach for the East Orange School District.
Tyson was famously known for her “master classes,” where she held school assemblies and invited special guests such as Maya Angelou, Tyler Perry, Mary Alice, Rosa Parks, Wynton Marsalis, Derrick Luke, and Judith Jamison to name a few.
Tyson’s presence positively touched thousands of students throughout East Orange, including Elijah Ahmad Lewis, who is currently performing on Broadway in shows such as Stevie Wonder: Motown Musical and Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations.
“On productions, she would come in and co-direct. We were able to work directly with her,” said Lewis. “She was a light, she was an angel on earth. She once pulled me aside and told me, ‘You know you got it’. That was a big defining moment for me. Every show, I keep her in mind.”
In 2009, Tyson visited East Orange for the dedication of the new $143 million, state-of-the-art, facility, which was rebuilt at 35 Winans Street to replace the former building on Elmwood Avenue. The new school housed students from grades pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and included four buildings, two theatres and a TV studio.
“Ms. Tyson was no stranger to our community as she visited quite frequently and taught acting classes whenever she could. Our hearts are certainly heavy as we mourn her transition,” said Abdulsaleem Hasan, East Orange School District Superintendent of Schools.
Tyson was the recipient of many honors, including two Emmy Awards, a Screen Actor Guild Award, a Tony Award, and honorary degrees from Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University, Howard University and Morehouse College. Inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, she also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She was a recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 when the Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts Choir surprised her with a guest appearance singing alongside CeCe Winans and Terrence Blanchard. She was also awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama in November 2016.
“What I always respected most about Ms. Tyson is her commitment to ‘showing up.’ There were never any cameo appearances,” added Mayor Green. “She wore her connection to our great city as a badge of honor and the entire community has benefited greatly from her presence in our lives. Her legacy will forever live on and she will always be one of our own.”