Monday, May 10th, 2021

Ms. Tyson, Thank you. For everything.

Published on January 31, 2021 by   ·   No Comments Pin It

Los Angeles. A dozen years ago, loitering in an egregious line at Costco. Carts brimming with over-sized everything. There stood a petite obsidian-skinned elder, dwarfed by her navy-hued sweatshirt. Astutely postured. Accounting for all she’d collected.

She caught my attention because Black women in LA don’t JUST wear sweatshirts. It’s gotta be bedazzled, embedded with rare jewels that seize and blind from every angle in addition to exotic solar-powered street lights. Think Vegas in a long-sleeve cotton ply.

But here she was decidedly, intentionally under-stated.


I said: “Good morning, Ms. Tyson. Thank you. For everything.”

Time ceased. Lost in a mutual smile. Amber prisms. That piercing, clarifying gaze. My God. Even as they danced they studied, catalyzed, and humanized.

The next time I saw her was at Dr. Angelou’s memorial. Wait Chapel. Wake Forest University. I had studied with and worked for Maya Angelou.

They’d first appeared together in the stageplay “The Blacks” by Jean Genet. Alongside James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett Jr., Roscoe Lee Browne, Abby Lincoln, and Godfrey Cambridge. All of them were “unknown” in 1961. The play ran for 3 years, 1,400 shows. Gave way to lifelong careers. Influenced and energized Black theater as we know it.

Ms. Tyson was on Broadway, starring in “The Trip to Bountiful,” for which she won a Tony at the age of 88. She had only a few close friends remaining this side of life. Dr. Angelou had become accustomed to a wheel chair, when needed, and had begun traveling by tour bus instead of flying. They spoke often until one day, one show, she was called upstairs from her dressing room. An otherworldly, overwhelming surprise. Dr. Angelou had traveled hundreds of miles to witness her performance, despite significant health challenges.

If you want to study togetherness, solidarity, moral support, creative disruption, turning something from nothing, study how our elders moved through life with one another across multiple decades. More than art, performance and the beckon of celebrity, how to be an unyielding friend who nurtures, furthers, forgives and atones, these are the gifts they’ve invested in us.

Ms. Tyson, I’ll say it again. I’ll say it everyday. Every time you come to mind, which is often. Thank you for standards, excellence, and high expectations that stretch us into better versions of ourselves; for demanding dignity for yourself, for us; for careful/honest language and divination that revealed and validated our humanity; for the complexity of your making and persistence of your being; for funding movements that freed us; for the gift and grace of your countenance.

Thank you. For everything.

Journey well. Journey safely. May your ancestors and enduring beloveds smile upon you as they proclaim: “WELL DONE.”

Àse. Aho. Amen. And Selah.

Katina Parker is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and community organizer. She is the founder of Feed Durham NC. You can follow her on facebook @katinaparker.

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