By Charreah Jackson
Cicely Tyson is enjoying her flowers while she can smell them. The activist and actress celebrated the opening of the state of the art Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange this past weekend. The Hollywood legend was overwhelmed as friends and family, including Oprah Winfrey, who flew in from Chicago, Angela Bassett, Terrence Howard, Susan L. Taylor, Lynn Whitfield and more came to support to show their support.
“I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I am with this moment,” she told the assembled crowd. “It was my mission to complete the cycle.”
Tyson declined the offer of Principal Laura Trimmings several times, for the school to be named for her. It wasn’t until she learned her father lived just blocks from the school, when he first moved to America from the West Indies, that she said yes to the school’s offer. The Harlem native has been hands-on since becoming a part of the school, and introduced town halls to bring parents in to connect with the faculty and staff.
“This is the type of person I wanted to be a role model for the kids,” Principal Trimmings said. “She never allowed herself to diminish her integrity or her pride for herself and her people. She turned down a lot of parts that could have brought her monetary gain. Every year she spends her birthday with the students and that speaks volumes.”
What also says a lot is the people who come when you call. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien was the emcee for the special occasion, as Oprah Winfrey sat front and center. Tyson was surprised early in the program when the man moving her mic stand was none other than Terrence Howard, and replied with a laugh, “You can move my mic stand anytime.”Angela Bassett was compelled to say a few words and called up good friend and actress Janet Hubert to join her at the event. Howard caught the school’s artistic spirit, and played the guitar. Designer B. Michael served as auctioneer to raise more funds for the school and BeBe Winans performed a musical tribute. Legendary husband-and-wife duo Ashford and Simpson, Rhonda Ross and Jeff Majors also came out to celebrate with Tyson.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to mold the minds of our children,” Tyson said. “It is my only desire that the students step outside of these doors and know they are capable of doing anything they put their minds to. I hope I live long enough to see these students become the masters of their fate.”
The $143 million new structure for the performing arts is one New Jersey’s finest schools and will now serve talented students in grades k-12. Local residents will also benefit from the structure, as the library, gym, music rooms and medical clinics are open to the community.