I just wanted to take a somber moment to say goodbye and thank you to the amazing actor Chadwick Boseman who once encouraged us all to be the hero of our own stories. It dawned on me then that someone could only put a challenge like that out there if he was living it.
Of course, I didn’t know him personally, and my sense of loss at his passing pales beside that of his wife, family, friends, and colleagues. Although we both attended Howard University (a decade apart), my admiration was formed largely through his movies. On the big screen, he gave phenomenal portrayals of iconic American-hero and cultural roles such as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and the fictional superhero King T’Challa, aka the Black Panther, of the fictional high-tech African nation Wakanda.
Never short on humility, I also remember him humbly say during an interview prior to the theatre release of Black Panther that it was the honor of his lifetime to play King T’Challa. As a nerdy young tomboy who chucked dolls for comic books, Chadwick as King T’Challa was a celebration of possibility witnessing the first Black superhero I’d ever known brought to life.
It was his role to play, I thought all three times I saw it in crowded theatres and the half dozen times after in my living room.
He really WAS the Black Panther. In spirit and form. Regal and dignified, empathetic and caretaking, and a strategic warrior steeped in quiet strength.
I cued it up again last night, the finale in a weeklong Chadwick Boseman marathon, and as with each viewing, I saw it with slightly different eyes. With the new knowledge he’d been privately battling colon cancer while filming this movie as well as half dozen others, my awe for him multiplied as an actor and a human being. These are just my imaginings, but I believe between surgeries, chemo, recovering, and fighting to stay, he channeled that unbelievable determination and power into his characters.
That fortitude inspires so much more after the fact.
He lived on purpose and did not waste moments. With the caliber of his talent, he must have said no to many roles, but what he said yes to left an intentional legacy of excellence and heart.
Speaking of heart, I’ve just learned that he was a mentor, a champion for social justice, and regularly visited children with cancer.
This is what grace looks like.
Also, I felt a special connection to his character Black Panther for another reason. In 2018, a few months after the theatre release, my oldest brother Joe, who I think of as my Black Panther, had a brain aneurysm. After an endless-seeming surgery, he fought his way back. Resting relentlessly, taking his meds, doing rehab exercises. I’d offered to fly out, but he didn’t want to be seen until he felt like himself again. When he got here, he was a little smaller, a little slower, a little different, but still Joe. When we went to see the Marvel exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle featuring Black Panther. I coaxed him into posing next to the life-sized figurine. That picture is everywhere I am now because he is really the comeback king.
Unlike T’Challa and brother Joe, who has fully recovered, Chadwick is gone. I’m sad for his family and the absence of such a beautiful soul who, for sure, had much more to give. I’m also so very grateful for the treasured gifts of inspiration he left behind. The world is better for him.
Photos of Chadwick Boseman via Google Images