‘A giant among men and women’: Norfolk native remembers pioneer Cicely Tyson

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Torrey Russel grew up in Norfolk and attended Lake Taylor High School. 

His love of theater and helping others blossomed over the years, which eventually put his path intersect with that of Cicely Tyson. 

Now, just one day after Tyson’s death shook America, Russel is recalling his own connection to the beloved actress. Tyson died at 96.

Russel is the CEO of a nonprofit called Broadway in the Hood, which helps underprivileged community members have access to performing arts.

He says he first Tyson at the premiere of the “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” at Tyler Perry Studios in Georgia. That film was released in 2005.

From there, they hit it off, and she became his mentor — many times also asking him to escort her to different events.

“Every event we ever went to, she would dance me under the table,” Russel said with a laugh.

He says Tyson became somewhat of a grandmother figure to him.

“Ms. Tyson was a giant among men and women but more than anything, she was a human who gave her all,” Russel explained.

He says she always kept him laughing but also pushed him to be the best he could be for himself, and others. 

“She was known for being that ball of energy and ball of light and yet still that ball of wisdom. The doors she was able to open during a time when African Americans weren’t allowed to … and especially African American women,” he said.

Russel says his life would’ve been completely different without mentors in his life like Tyson. He believes her legacy will live on in many different ways, such as the Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange New Jersey.

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