If I am lucky enough to make it to 93, I want to be a fly 93 just like Harlem’s own, the legend, actress Cicely Tyson.
One, she dresses impeccably. Two, she’s both wondrous and intimidating. As someone who loves (and still fears) her soon-to-be 90-year-old grandmother, I can only imagine what Tyson is like when she disapproves of something.
Actually, I don’t have to imagine.
I personally saw it in action during her acceptance speech at AT&T’s Humanity of Connection event Thursday in New York City.
Halfway through the legend’s remarks, she asked for water. She’d been talking for a bit, and it’s understandable that she’d need a sip, but when her assistant Emma appeared with a bottle of Dasani, Tyson scoffed.
A bottle? A bottle of water? Surely no one expected her to drink, onstage, from a bottle! She admonished the bottle carrier, who disappeared, to reappear in the form of the evening’s host, actor-author Hill Harper, carrying a glass of water with a straw, which was much more favorable to Tyson, who would then go on to thank her followers and fans.
“You are, in fact, responsible for who I am,” she said during a speech in which she spoke at length about her career and the influence of her mother, who she “defied” by going into show business, but ultimately won over her respect — once she proved she could make a living and care for herself.
“I’m grateful to say that she lived long enough to see that I wasn’t going to live in a house of inequity which she thought, and [she] invited me to move out of her house,” Tyson said. “I’m extremely grateful to her despite the fact that at the time it was very difficult for me to accept what she was pouring on me out of protection and love.
“I realize since she’s been gone that I understood for the first time what amputees meant when they said that they felt that the limb was still there because I kept reaching for her that awe that had supported me all those years and recognize that she in fact is responsible for who I am standing here in front of you because I used her as a source of energy to prove to her that I was not going to go live in the den of inequity and I also heard her say I am so proud of you,” Tyson said, adding, “I think that if I had not heard her say those words none of it would mean anything to me because it was she who gave me the energy to make the decisions that I did throughout my entire career.”
A mother’s love is a powerful thing. You never forget it, and Tyson’s remarks reminded us all of that.
Tyson started off her speech with the old saying, “Man’s work is from sun to sun. A woman’s work is never done,” something she said her mother told her. I thought about how this was definitely true for my mother and my grandmother—the former a schoolteacher-turned-homemaker and the latter a hardworking woman who did everything from chop and pick cotton to clean hospital rooms to work at a toothpaste factory.
But that proverb is not my story. Well, not quite, anyway.
I’m a woman who, by virtue of not having any children or husband, basically lives no differently from a very busy professional man. Meaning, my workday does have an end of sorts (as much as the news can “end” at 6 or 7 p.m.), and I outsource most of my home “labor” because I work so much and often have zero interest in doing things like “feeding myself properly” or “cleaning house.” My deputy managing editor and friend Yesha Callahan tried to turn me on to meal-kit delivery service Green Chef, but once I realized I would have to assemble and prepare my own meals (in 35-45 minutes, depending on the meal), I balked and went back to hastily thrown-together dinners of instant oatmeal or whatever looks good on Grubhub.
I’ve gotten so used to this life that I can’t really imagine what it would look like if a child or a man were introduced into it. (I’ve been chronically single since 2002. Which, last I checked, is a long-ass time.) While I enjoy playing auntie to my actual 5-year-old nephew and the various grown-ass men in my life (shoutout to Corey, Jada, Jason and Moses), a man or a child full time sounds daunting. I literally don’t know how my younger sister Deidre does it, raising her son while juggling a career. I have a hard-enough time keeping my plants alive in my apartment, where orchids annually go to die.
But I get to live this life of joyful professional pursuit and leisurely downtime because of the efforts of those who came before me. Trailblazers in civil rights and everyday, ordinary people who stood up and fought for equity in education and the workplace. Cicely Tyson, Martin Luther King Jr., my grandmother, my mother and countless others worked to make this world that I could succeed within, and I’m grateful for it.
Even this column, Antisocial—the society page for people afraid of society because of a crippling social anxiety disorder—is the direct result of those who came before me and helped me get to where I am, someone quasi significant enough to get invited to fancy things. I really am (as they say) my ancestors’ wildest dreams. After all, I’m pretty sure my foremothers and forefathers weren’t stolen from their homeland and brought to this country to go to parties honoring heroes of black liberation.
Speaking of being black and free, probably one of the freest black people I’ve met is political commentator “cousin” Angela Rye. I thought I was blunt, but she is a beautiful, unfiltered, uncensored being who tells it like it is, to your face—for good and for your CNN peril if you’re arguing opposite her point of view on cable news.
Rye is, at this moment, red hot. The Root 100 2017 honoree is all over the place, from CNN to BET to her podcast, and she’s in demand. Everyone wants a piece of her. Hell, even The Root wanted in on that Rye action, as we had her co-host The Root 100 gala last year. So I wasn’t surprised that AT&T chose to honor her alongside Cicely Tyson; Essence magazine’s president, Michelle Ebanks; and Wes Moore, CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation.
Rye, who encouraged a thoughtful type of “wokeness” in her acceptance speech, shouted out the luminous actress Phylicia Rashad, aka Clair Huxtable, who was in attendance, as someone she had aspired to be—and felt that she’d reached in terms of style and sass, but was still missing the “grace” with which Clair took to things.
“The saints aren’t through with me yet,” joked the opinionated Rye.
The Humanity of Connection is an event shepherded by AT&T’s Assistant Vice President Tanya Lombard. The purpose of this year’s event was to highlight the works of prominent individuals, as well as commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of MLK.
Taking place at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the event featured a rousing choir, acceptance speeches and a special short film, also called “The Humanity of Connection,” by Keith Clinkscales, former CEO of Revolt, that contrasted the life and legacy of King with the works of other civil rights activists, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the latter of whom was in attendance and spoke earlier during the event. The film also tied King’s legacy to that of the evening’s honorees.
“Will we be able to say we kept the dream alive?” Sharpton asked during his remarks before adding, “We’re not going to have his dream ‘trumped’ by anybody.”
Sharpton then joked that he wasn’t being “political,” but his word choice said otherwise during a speech when he called for those with “dirty hands” and “clean hearts” to do the hard work of movement building and organizing.
The event closed with a dance party deejayed by none other than D-Nice, and I was happy to enjoy a little dance-off with The Root’s weekend social media editor, Corey Townsend, and friend (and starting to become an Antisocial column regular) Sophia Chang, who was at the event as a guest of our mutual friend, pre-eminent branding maven Marvet Britto, CEO of the Britto Agency. Corey was having the best night ever in a fetching pair of pink, wax-print pants that caught the eye of Rashad.
I was also happy to run into legendary society columnist Audrey Bernard of the New York Beacon, who was chatting with Sister 2 Sister magazine’s Jamie Foster Brown.
After the event, I continued to stay out for several more hours gabbing away with friends at the nearby Mandarin Oriental hotel bar, making this the most social Antisocial column ever. While I have my issues, ultimately, I do enjoy a good night out, good conversation and good people, all of which were in abundance at AT&T’s Humanity of Connection. Not everything fills me with existential dread. Just most things.
But definitely not everything.
Thank goodness I don’t have a man or kids to worry about so that I can spend more quality time worrying about what to wear to these things.