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Though it might be a bit outdated, the old saying goes: “Behind every successful man, there’s a great woman.”
In the case of astrophysicist, author, radio and television host Neil deGrasse Tyson, that great woman would be his mother, Sunchita “Toni” Tyson.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Toni Tyson discusses the unique challenges of raising a future astrophysicist in the Bronx.
Ms. Tyson encouraged her son’s scientific aptitude and interests, even when some teachers and professors had low expectations for Neil due to a racist bias.
"It was not easy—it was a full time 24-hour a day job," says Toni. "All three of my children are brown, and they stay brown all year round, and they even get darker in the summertime. We had to make it very, very clear at a very early age that some people are not going to be very nice to them, but it was not their problem but the other person’s problem. When things did occur, we would get onto it immediately.”
When Neil was in junior high school, Toni says that she had read about a scholarship available through the Department of Education. Neil filled out the application, wrote an essay, and had to get three references. According to Toni, one teacher Neil asked for a reference came back with some harsh feedback.
"When he presented it to the teacher, he said, ‘What makes you think you can get this scholarship?’" says Toni. "Of course, he came home devastated. As a result, he used another teacher. I had gotten vibes from this individual that I did not like during one of the Parent Teacher Association meetings."
That is just one of many stories of struggles Toni discusses in this wide ranging interview Takeaway Host John Hockenberry. Neil deGrasse Tyson himself also joins in the conversation—listen to the full discussion above to hear more.