Tyson Beckford is a name almost synonymous with the male fashion industry today. But his early upbringing in Rochester and The Bronx in New York City was anything but glamorous.
It was surely American but it was a far cry from the ‘Ralph Lauren American Dream’ that Tyson would later come to represent.
He had to break many a glass ceiling in his rise to the top.
He is noted as the first African-American male supermodel, also credited with opening the door for other people of men of colour to enter into the industry.
Tyson was born under the snowstorms of Rochester, upstate New York, on the 19th December, 1970. He was born to an Afro-Jamaican mother, Hillary Dixon Hall and a Panamanian father of Afro-Jamaican and Chinese-Jamaican descent, Lloyd Beckford.
Soon after he was born, his mother Hilary took the family back to Jamaica, where they lived for seven years connecting a young Tyson to his Jamaican roots, before returning to Rochester, New York.
To this day Rochester, situated on the banks of Lake Ontario has one of the highest crime rates in America, compared to all communities of all sizes – from the smallest towns to the very largest cities.
Rochester’s neighbourhoods conjure up too many stereotypes to count. You’ve got hipster areas, preppy places, neighbourhoods where college kids thrive, and of course, ghettos. It seems as if there’s a neighbourhood for everyone in Rochester.
When Tyson was in his early teens his family moved to The Bronx. By the 1970s The Bronx was a battleground, with many parts of it on fire, significant poverty had reached as far north as Fordham Road. Around this time, the Bronx experienced some of its worst instances of urban decay, with the loss of 300,000 residents and the destruction of entire city blocks’ worth of buildings. The 70’s was an era where organised crime and street gangs ruled. Drugs were everywhere and violence was easy to find.
Tyson admits that he lived a wild life when he was young, sometimes running with a dangerous crowd and often courting trouble. He even spent a night in jail for stealing a car, though the charges were reduced, He attended school and did the usual part time jobs like a paper round, and flipping burgers in McDonalds. But he was always thinking about the entertainment industries, he used to rap as a kid, then decided he wanted to be a music producer.
‘My friends were in gangs. Today a lot of them are dead or in jail. It was a horrible time and I vowed once I left I would never go back.’
This is a snippet from the soon to be released FIB Film series BLUE STEEL – RISE OF THE SUPERMODEL – Episode 3 – “Tyson Beckford”.
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