DEI Blog: Orchard Launches “People Project” During Black History Month: Cicely Tyson

The “People Project” is not just a reflection on Black History Month, but rather a way to illuminate important Black voices whose stories go unheard. It is important for us to become familiar with more names, learn about more people, and get others talking about the significant work that so many have done and/or are still doing to promote and move forward the work of social justice. 

The more we learn, the more we can uplift accomplishments and acknowledge the contributions to our greater society by so many who have come before and walk with us today. The “People Project” will feature those who have changed ways of thinking, paved the way for others, and fight for what they stand for. Black History Month is the perfect time to launch the “People Project.” We are excited to continue this project throughout the remainder of the year as we will highlight other important voices in the months to follow. 

-Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lisa Pryor 


Ms. Tyson was a daughter of immigrants from Nevis and grew up in Harlem. She was shunned by her family for wanting to act but did not let that stop her from pursuing her dream. Ms. Tyson started out in the modeling world but quickly began acting on Broadway in 1957. This led to her being the first African American to star in a television drama with her role in East Side/ West Side in 1963. She was known for only accepting roles that portrayed Black women in a positive light. 

Ms. Tyson’s list of work is expansive and includes roles in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Roots, The Women of Brewster Place, Mame Floras Family, House of Cards, How to Get Away with Murder, Cherish the Day, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Help, and so many more. She received an Academy Award for best actress in her role as Rebecca Morgan in Sounder in 1972. Ms. Tyson earned two Emmys for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and an Emmy for the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She earned a Tony for performance in Broadway’s The Trip to Bountiful and continued performing on Broadway for several years. 

Ms. Tyson was committed to helping the communities around her including her support for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She was honored for the work she accomplished including the Congress of Racial Equality, earning the 95th Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Council of Negro Women. In 1977 she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, was a Kennedy Center honoree in 2015, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by Barack Obama, and in 2018 received an honorary Academy Award. She recently wrote a memoir of her life and works, Just as I Am. Ms. Tyson passed away peacefully on January 28th of this year. She leaves behind a tremendous legacy and a path well paved for those who will follow in her footsteps. 

Rest in power, Cicely Tyson (December 19, 1924 – January 28, 2021)

Entertainment Tonight honors Cicely Tyson

Next up: August Wilson