On July 29, 2023, Dr. Vivian Ayers Allen celebrated a milestone—her 100th birthday. Mother to icons Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, along with sons Hugh and Andrew Jr., the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet and activist was celebrated by her closest family and friends with bi-coastal events.
During a recent conversation with Debbie Allen, the “Grey’s Anatomy” Executive Producer shared with EBONY how special it was to celebrate such a significant birthday with her mother.
“This has been one of the most glorious moments in all of our lives, to be here with mom on her 100th birthday. We’re working to republish her book, “Hawk”, that will soon be available to the whole world on debbieallendanceacademy.com,” Debbie Allen Shares. “It’s a book that is a poem about man’s transcendence to a higher level of existence; it’s how she’s raised us. She’s raised us to see ourselves in the universe, beyond the block we were raised on. My mother is incredible. We had bi-coastal celebrations. Phylicia had one in South Carolina and I had one here at the Rhimes Performing Arts Center (Los Angeles). We had people reading poetry; Phylicia read, we had Angela Bassett, Jesse Williams and Alexis Floyd reading, too. It was just glorious.”
An incredible woman she is. Dr. Vivian Ayers Allen begin her literary career in 1952 when she published “Spice of Dawns”, 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. She also studied classical Greek at Rice University, Columbia University, and Princeton University. In addition, she has studied and translated texts on Mayan culture and astronomy.
“Mommy is doing so well, and it made her so happy. I just can’t tell you what that feels like. Phylicia and I have such a huge benchmark to live up to now. I’m just trying to stay healthy, and so is Phylicia. We talk about these things so often, it’s how we’re able to continue doing all the things that we do.”
To reach 100 years old is an accomplishment for anyone—no matter your race. But for a Black woman to live through some of the nation’s most dark times—Jim Crow Era and more—yet still make history and raise some of Black culture’s most iconic women, is something that should definitely be applauded. But what is the real secret to life longevity? According to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy founder, it’s mental capacity.
“Mom was a mathematician. She was one of those Hidden Figures women working at NASA; her poetry is written in stone at NASA. She has always used her mind. She was still doing her taxes up until six years ago, I had to tell her, “mom, calm down!” I think her mental capacity has led her to this golden age of 100. She’s had a lot of challenges in her life, and we’ve lived through those challenges with her. But at the end of the day, there’s always been positive energy. No matter what, you have to think positive thoughts, and that was the world we grew up in. I think that’s why we’re the humans we are today; my sister and brothers and I. So we hope everyone will join in once the book is released.”
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