Phylicia Rashad and her sister played legendary motherly roles on “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” respectively for decades. But in real life, it was their own mother, Dr. Vivian Ayers, who has been a major support to them, often photographed with the ladies at awards shows and premieres. She also taught them, among many other things, that there were no limits to what they could do and where they could go.
Rashad and Allen say they learned a great deal about motherhood, success and just life in general from their mom, who recently turned 100 years old.
Dr. Ayers literary career began in Houston, Texas with the publication of “Spice of Dawns” (1952), a collection of poems that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. “Hawk,” an allegory of freedom made analogous to space flight, followed and was published on July 11, 1957, just 11 weeks before the launch of Sputnik I. “Hawk” would later earn praise from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at their Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center where enlarged reproductions of the writings are exhibited.
Her talents and interests also include the research of world cultures. She studied classical Greek at Rice University, Columbia University, and Princeton University. In addition, she has studied and translated texts on Mayan culture and astronomy.
In 1973, while still living in Houston, Texas and working with the Harris County Community Association, she collaborated with certified teachers to create her signature program, “Workshops in Open Fields.” This method of education was recommended to the nation as the prototype of grassroots arts programming.
Vivian also had a knack for crunching numbers and was the real-life “hidden figure.” She used to work at the Johnson Space Center as a mathematician in the 1960s.
“It was my mother who taught us choral speech,” Allen shared. “It was my mother who taught us to tumble across the living room floor. It was my mother who gave us a real appreciation for art and literature as living things, not just as something hung on the wall or placed on the shelf — an appreciation for ideas and the power of thought and human intention. My mother gave us a lot — she gave us everything.”
Ayers Allen was not physically present on the grounds of the Brainerd Institute Saturday for her 100th birthday party, book release event and poetry festival staged in her honor, but in some way she is always there.
“This was my mother’s vision,” said her daughter, Phylicia Rashad. “It was my mother’s vision that it should be open like this, that there should be literacy and arts and that’s what we’ve done. This is what she wanted, for this to be open for the people of Chester and surrounding areas to come, congregate and share art.”
Several poets came forward to share their own work on Saturday, with many citing the work of Ayers as an influence and inspiration. They are certainly not alone in that respect.
As mentioned earlier, her work, “Hawk” (which uses space flight as an allegory of freedom) was celebrated by NASA (enlarged versions of it are in the Kennedy Space Center) and was actually published a few months before the so-called…