Friday, September 4, 2020

A Tribute Fit for a King

One week has passed and the melancholy cloud I found myself under has yet to lift, although the world seems to have found a way to continue its rotation. News features and tribute specials have ceased; social media reflection posts have been replaced by satirical memes, blooper reels, and ever-present dance challenges. Verzuz battles have resumed and the never-ending call to vote has recommenced. Yet I'm stuck. Stuck in the painful disbelief that another one of our shining stars has left us. 2020 had already stolen so much--187,000 lives to date due to COVID-19; the continuous black and brown victims of police brutality whose names we continue to shout out less we forget; icons and civil rights heroes from Kobe Bryant to Andre Harrell to John Lewis--and now there was this: our King T'Challa, our Black Panther, our beloved Howard brother, Chadwick Boseman, had ascended at the young age of 43. And, again, it was simply all too much to bear.

So much so, I refused to believe it was just me that was still wrestling with such pensive sadness days later. It couldn't just be me who decided to shut the world out last weekend to just lie in bed and grieve or as writer Damon Young implored in a curt yet impactful essay, to remove the need to "gotta do anything" else in this moment besides just cry. No, I couldn't be the only one re-watching Boseman's blockbuster movies and related interviews, or scrolling through photographs looking for any sign we all must have missed that revealed our black superhero was in the fight of his life battling stage 3 and, ultimately, stage 4 colon cancer, all the while expending his complete energy to bring us joy, inspiration, and hope. 

Whether reminding graduates to "take the harder way" in his 2018 commencement speech at Howard University or in simply offering a sly yet empowering smirk standing at home plate to embody the fullness of the late great Jackie Robinson or commanding the full attention of a courtroom to portray the honorable Thurgood Marshall or, of course, delivering a tour de force performance as Marvel's Black Panther in both a leading movie role and within the Avengers franchise, it was no debating Chadwick Boseman was "The One."

So, no, it could not just be me that felt this loss as greatly different, unshakable and, dare I say, unnecessary. That's when I reached out to a friend, whose reaction in a group chat the evening the devastating news of his passing broke, mirrored my own. "Is it just me...?" I asked. Her response read in part: "Nope, it's not. Still sad and took off from work last Monday to process this...still trying to figure out why I feel this it the HU connection...the way he related to and spoke on the injustices that plagued us...his activism...his gentle spirit...his awesomeness in Black Panther...knowing there was so much more for him to do...?" I replied, "All of it." All. Of. It. And then some. 

I was never a "comic book head" but, growing up, my bedroom was directly across from someone who was: my youngest brother, who cherished comic books so much, he ran to our local 7-11 on a regular basis with me in tow to snag latest releases and first editions, then ran back home to lie across his bed and read them, before storing them in his nightstand, pulling out his art pad, and recreating near perfect renderings of his favorite characters, demonstrating a natural gift in drawing that ironically was never pursued beyond his childhood past times. And so, while the Barbie collection had my full attention, I was keenly aware from watching the joy that engulfed my brother of the transformative power of comics and superheros and what that meant to other kids like him. So, it would be no surprise that this transformative power would be tenfold when brought to the masses on the big screen in Black Panther, highlighting black excellence and the beauty of the African diaspora while giving little black boys and girls (and the rest of us "big kids") the representation we never had but so desperately needed on the big screen. That an aspirational kid from Anderson, South Carolina, would not only set his life's course on a deliberate path to change how Hollywood saw us but would, as a result, change how the world saw us was nothing short of astounding. 

Therefore, it was comforting to know that although the world was returning to its "new normal," my continued sadness was justified, although I was sure it paled in comparison to those who knew him personally, and would continue to wrestle with this loss for weeks, months, maybe even years to come. So, I felt and still feel no rush in needing to push through my grief; yet, I was ready to try and make some sense of it so that I eventually could. And that's when I realized the ability to do so lies directly in understanding the very arc of almost every superhero story: that it starts with an every day person, serendipitously bestowed with supernatural strength that leads to a life of wielding goodwill and honor, that inspires and transforms, until it encounters that one villainous enemy that ushers them toward death. However, it is in what happens to the superhero next where the real magic is found: the rebirth. Be it in a person of a different gender, a different ethnicity, or a renewed storyline, the superhero never really dies: they simply transition and transform. 

I believe that is what Chadwick knew that allowed him to quietly face the reality of his mortality and what he hoped we would all come to embrace as well: that although he may have left us, he would be "reborn" and allowed to live on in every life he touched again and again and again. He would show up in little boys and girls who could now dream bigger than ever before; in men and women who would reflect on his tenacity and courage to push through their own personal hardships; in his fellow black actors and actresses who would be encouraged to always seek the roles that celebrate and uplift us first; in the graduates who he reminded on that hot summer day to "[find that] life purpose that crosses disciplines"; and in every child from that small town of Anderson, who would now beam with pride in knowing they come from a place where a legend was born. Actor Aldis Hodge once said, a superhero is simply someone who "represents hope, opportunity, and strength for everybody." If this is true, Chadwick Boseman was always a superhero. He never needed Hollywood for that; Hollywood needed him. And his legacy will live on in each and every person he inspired, as only superheros can. 

Rest in peace, Brother Chadwick. Job well done. 

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