Neil deGrasse Tyson's Mom Explains How to Raise a Brilliant Child

Friday, May 09, 2014

Though it might be a bit outdated, the old saying goes: "Behind every successful man, there's a great woman."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.

Sunchita Tyson, mother of celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, pictured here with Takeaway Host John Hockenberry.


Sunchita Tyson

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [8]


It's amazing what interested parent(s) can do for a child when they devote their energy to positive flow. It's so great when the negative stuff is recognized, but let-go - move forward always.

Neil is super; not difficult to see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree - or perhaps better said, these stars' shine, brightly on, throughout the cosmos!

May. 13 2014 01:27 PM
Green Christian from USA

I had a similar experience with a counselor discouraging me from the sciences. In my case, I thought it was less race-related and more butthead-related. I am glad that he fought back for his education! He did the right thing.

May. 12 2014 08:11 AM
Courtney Ostaff

Is there a transcript available?

May. 09 2014 03:24 PM
Kara from nyc

pretty rude you dont also mention the university of texas.

other than that, his mother sounds great!

May. 09 2014 02:59 PM
j. wilson

The interview with Sunchita Tyson made me yearn for the NYC school system that manage to educate all types of children if parents had the drive and information to work with. Today the maze of programs are exclusive only to those in the know. Typical workingclass parents don't know where to go or whom to ask. It was a delight to hear Mrs.Tyson rapport with her son.

May. 09 2014 02:41 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I have an idea for a tie which doubles as a recyclable grocery bag. Neil might be the only one who would wear it

May. 09 2014 01:57 PM
Carlotta Tyler from Salem, MA

What I gave my daughters was distinctive, gender-neutral first names. A 60's feminist, I tried a sociological experiment. My eldest daughter is named "Sloan". She was accepted as a commuter student when Boston College first became coed in 1980's. They had a limit on female commuters and she found, when she arrived at orientation, they thought she was male. So did the US Marine Corps, who sent her recruiting letters way before they were recruiting women. An attorney and Captain in the Coast Guard, she is currently the Director of the US Coast Guard's Special Victims Counsel Unit.
My other daughter was named Page, not Paige with a circle over the "i". She became an early success in finance on Wall Street, as a result of being mentored by a CEO who thought she was male when he initially agreed to an "information interview".
I think the strategy may have worked!

May. 09 2014 11:33 AM
Crystal Black Davis from Jersey City

What a wonderful segment on the force behind such an amazing individual. Mrs. Tyson is indeed an inspiration.
BTW-I nearly lost it when she called Neil "Bubby" sweet!
Thanks John for choosing to profile her!

May. 09 2014 11:01 AM

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