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'Mama Flora' Has A School

Cicely Tyson has built an acting career on a firm foundation of faith, skill, and dignity, and she wants to pass those qualities on to young people. To that end, she has lent her name to a school in East Orange, New Jersey: The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts.

Tyson, who starred in the CBS mini-series Mama Flora's Family, is a sort of "surrogate Mom" to hundreds of students at the school that bears her name, reports CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen.

When the honor came to her three years ago, Tyson says, "I didn't understand why they wanted to name a school after me."

Making music at Tyson's school (CBS)
The actress is quick to credit principal Laura Trimmings with the success of the school, calling her "the most incredible woman" and praising the emphasis that is placed on the importance of college preparation in addition to classes in dancing, music, and even the art of animation.

"The stipulation was that I wanted to be actually involved," says Tyson, 64. "And it's really been one of the most glorious things in my life."

Above all, Tyson wants her students to go into the world with a sense of determination.

"There are a lot of things that I want for them that I would want for myself," she says. "It's that when they leave here, be secure in who they are, what they are, why they are, and nothing will deter them from their goals."

Tyson herself knows the value of persistence. She was reared in Harlem by parents who had come to the U.S. from the Caribbean. Tyson sold shopping bags on the street for a time. She finished high school and went to work as a typist. As a springboard to an acting career, she also worked as a model.
Her starring role as Rebecca Morgan in the movie Sounder (1972) made her a star, and she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress. (She lost to Liza Minnelli, who won for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in Cabaret.)

Tyson's other film credits include Hoodlum (1997), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). Bustin' Loose (1981), A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich (1977), and The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (1968).

For her work in television, Tyson has won three Emmy Awards:

  • 1994: Outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries or special, for her role as Castalia in Oldest Living Confederate Widow (CBS)
  • 1974: Actress of the Year (Special Award), for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (CBS)
  • 1974: Best Lead Actress in a Drama, again for The Autobography of Miss Jane Pittman
Tyson also won Emmy nominations for her work in Roots (1977), King (1978), and The Marva Collins Story (1982), and the drama series Sweet Justice (1995).

The title character of Mama Flora's Family is only the latest in a long line of determined, strong roles that Tyson has played. The actress describes her as "a woman who adjusted to everything that came her way. Making lemonade out of lemons, if you will. Her goal was to bring that family together."

Also in the cast of Mama Flora's Family were Blair Underwood, Queen Latifah, and Mario Van Peebles.

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