Debbie Allen on Growing up with Phylicia Rashad & How Their Mom Influenced Them

Oyin Balogun
Aug 12, 2019
05:10 P.M.

Growing up as a brown-skinned family, at a time when segregation was still legal in America was not an easy feat for the Allens. Actress, Debbie Allen revealed how their mom, 96, supported her and sister, Phylicia Rashad through all those years of struggles.



The tale of two sisters who came from humble beginnings and emerged two of the most prominent Hollywood overachievers is one that has been told and celebrated in the entertainment industry.


The Golden Globe Award-Winning actress, Debbie Allen, 69 and her sister, Phylicia Rashad, who is a Tony Award winner were raised in Houston, Texas, by their mother, Vivian Ayers. Their parents divorced when they were four and six, respectively, leaving them in the care of their poet mom.


The celebrated sisters spent their early years in Texas, struggling to survive in a world that did not welcome them. But their mom protected them from the harsh realities of that time, making them value their self-worth.


"We grew up with not a lot of money," she said. "We grew up not being able to go to ballet class or downtown to a restaurant or a movie. And so my mother always made us believe that we were part of a universe that welcomed us and wanted our creativity and was waiting for us to do something good. And so we've been doing that forever."


The Hollywood sisters gave their mom all the credits for their numerous achievements. Without her encouragement, they would never have gotten this far in the pursuit of their dreams.


The sisters developed an interest in arts at a time when it was forbidden for African-Americans to go into acting or attend dance classes.

The 96-year-old matriarch tried getting Debbie admitted in a ballet school in Houston after she fell in love with ballet, but none would have her. However, Vivian Ayers was dauntless. She built a ballet barre in the dining space and hired a private dance coach for the little Debbie.



After enduring years of segregation in the US, the family moved to Mexico, a country that was more receptive of their skin color. Rashad revealed this in an interview saying:

"Mexican people would look at me, and they'd say, 'Aye,' Negrita. I didn't understand that was a compliment. They loved the color of my skin."


The sisters learned to support each other and become relentless goal getters. They pursued their dreams and became best at what they did, knowing it was the one way they could stand out in a harsh world. And their determination paid off, as Debby went on to become the first African-American to win the golden globe award for best actress in a TV series.

On the other hand, her sister Phylicia Rashad was the first-ever African-American actress to bag a Tony award. All thanks to their 96-year-old fighter mom.

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