I remember a lifetime ago, dressing up as Superman on Halloween. It was raining, my mother forced me to wear my bomber jacket over the cape — drastically reducing the intimidation factor — as I went marching through the streets dressed as the Man of Steel. I knew I wasn’t going to grow up to be Superman — Ghostbuster, maybe — but just knowing I had a connection to that character made me feel like the strongest kid on the block. So what do we say to all those little boys in Black Panther costumes, the little future kings of their own Wakanda, who just lost Chadwick Boseman?
After generations never having that connection, they finally get it, and then it’s ripped away. How do we make that right?
This year began with weeks of momentum for what could be the beginning of a beautiful new decade. People were motivated, eager, ready to take it on — you could feel it intuitively in the air. Immediately, though, we were slapped in the face with the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and a number of others in a tragic helicopter flight. Still, we remained optimistic.
When many of us assumed 2020 couldn’t possibly get any worse –fires, floods, death, destruction, corruption, pandemics, hurricanes, murder — we’re reminded yet again this world knows no bottom too deep for despair to run. The loss of Chadwick Boseman, however, was one of those gut-wrenching curveballs nobody could have anticipated, and the silver lining to losing our Black Panther seems lost on us.
Not just because he was young and famous, or because of how much he had left to give, but because of what Chadwick represented to so many, especially young Black men — pride. The thought of taking that from every young boy in the Black community who saw someone they could embrace as a true hero to their community, a kind of role model unlike any they’d seen, is the greatest of tragedies, given the times we’re living in. He joins Kobe, John Lewis, George Floyd and countless other Black men lost this year whose teachings should never be forgotten. But it doesn’t stop there.
Black Panther was a celebration of Black life, a modern benchmark for new generations of the Black community that showed us the boundless strength and courage its men, as well as its mighty women. It should not and cannot be lost on us.
So how do we, as men, shape this for those young men and little boys who wanted to grow up to be like T’Challa, the one who felt that connection to making the world a better place, making a difference in their own individual Wakanda?
We must remain optimistic, despite these massive blows to our Black community. We must be more supportive of them than ever. We must carry the lessons we learned from Chadwick and pay tribute to the impression he left on our hearts by continuing to inspire those little boys to be like him.
Because when you break it down, it’s hard to separate Chadwick from T’Challa from so many of the other characters he beautifully portrayed for us. And let us never forget how he battled a terrible, relentless disease daily throughout the process of portraying these strong, iconic characters without so much as a clue that he was struggling!
That was his legacy.
Not just one of pride, but of perseverance and grace. Living in your purpose — one that changes over time — with the gifts put inside you. Rather than squandering or focusing on the bad, pushing through to a place much bigger than yourself.
What would you do, given a terminal illness? Continue to put off putting in the work, imagining there’ll always be tomorrow? But what if there wasn’t one? To use your last remaining days to not only battle a ruthless sickness but to fight through the pain to deliver some of your best work –doing what you love and doing it to your very best — which celebrates other people and brings communities together, that’s a legacy worth living well after you’re done here.
He was gracious, humble, kind, hardworking, inspired yet inspiring, small yet strong. He was Jackie Robinson, he was Thurgood Marshall, and he was James Brown. He was a role model, a leader to his community and to all Black communities. He was a very definition of a legend –something so great it stands alone in its greatness — and we should be so lucky we were given his greatness, even if you weren’t aware of until it was gone.
You tell those boys that even though he’s gone, T’Challa is always within them. Keep them strong, keep them honest, keep them optimistic. Teach them love, teach them humility, teach them resilience. Show them strength in weakness, show them vulnerability, show them what makes a real man, just as Chadwick did.
Honor to your family, be their keeper and a rock to the women in your community. Be the goodness, be the laughter, be the flicker in the dark. Be the King of your own Wakanda, bringing those you love in your community together, until it’s time for you to hand it off to them.
Celebrate Black history, celebrate Black heroes, celebrate Black Panther. Because Chadwick may be gone, but Black Panther is never really dead. He’s alive and well inside of each and every one of us. We just have to keep him close and let him be seen in us all.
Never yield, never forget. And don’t freeze.