When asked to write about who she admires most, BET CEO Debra Lee focused in on actress Cicely Tyson, looking beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
In an essay for POLITICO's "Women Rule" series, our leading lady speaks on the beautiful and positive spirit of the 79-year-old industry vet, as well as her philanthropic efforts throughout the community.
"What the awards don’t reveal is her truly generous spirit, her strong resolve and her passion for ensuring that the next generation has the tools to succeed. I’ve had the pleasure of admiring her and the honor of knowing her for many years. If she’s pleased with you, you know it. If she’s not, you know that, too. I’ve felt the warmth of her hug, and every now and then, received a word of advice with a knowing look. She’s always seeking higher ground and encouraging others to get there, too.
She’s a woman to admire, but not only for what she’s done. She should also be admired for what she would not do. Cicely recognized the power of the medium and made a choice early in her career to only accept roles that sent a positive message to women — especially women of color. She used her career as a platform to make a statement.
If the caliber of the role being offered didn’t meet her standards, she didn’t work. That’s a tough stance for an actress looking for her next job, but her determination eventually paid off. Her unflinching desire to seek quality roles allowed her — and many other actresses who followed — to get access to better parts. Because she took a stand, many actresses can now soar. She can relish in her work now, too, choosing roles simply because she considers them to be a challenge.
She has had a storied career. Few actresses have played such pivotal roles and enjoyed success that has spanned decades. This speaks to her uncommon versatility, endurance and grace."
Tyson, who is set to star in the made-for-television film A Trip to Bountiful with co-star Vanessa Williams, will celebrate her 80th birthday in December.
Check out Lee's full letter here!