See Me: Pushing Past Pain Toward Purpose

A Life Lived to Uplift the Culture

This past weekend, what was meant to be a momentous occasion filled with celebration was marked by sadness and tears as news spread of Chadwick Boseman’s passing. Though I didn’t personally know the man or have anything in common with him, except the fact that we both attended Howard University (HU!), I wept like he was a brother from another mother. As the tears streamed down my face, thoughts of the impact of this man’s life raced through my mind. While I cannot speak to his character outside of what was captured on film or through the lens of a camera, I mourned the passing of a life that lived out a definite purpose.

Hearing that he had endured years of chemotherapy and pain to deliver films and content that effectively changed Black culture made matters more tragic. It wasn’t because he had kept his illness a secret. No, that was a personal decision that I believe may have been the best for him. Rather, it was because this man pushed past the pain and suffering he endured regularly because he believed the stories of the individuals he portrayed were worth telling. Not only were the characters he played on the screen iconic, but he also brought new life to them that I don’t believe any other actor could have done so exquisitely. He wasn’t just reading lines from a script as Jackie Robinson. I believe he fully immersed himself into the character to give us, the audience, an inside look into what it was really like for the famous baseball player.

As a Howard alum, I know he was more than informed about the historical significance of the characters he played. Let’s be honest: hardly anyone graduates from Howard without knowing more than their fair share about colonialism, white privilege, systemic racism, and the Black Panthers. Yes, it may be a generalization. But it’s one that seems to be proven true every time I speak with non-HBCU graduates about these topics.

Looking at all the films he acted in, I believe Chadwick Boseman was intentional about the roles he selected. Yes, he may have sought to challenge himself for the sake of his art, but it seems apparent that he had something else in mind: purpose. To me, he chose roles that would impact a generation. From Get on Up to Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, Boseman joined fellow actors and actresses to tell stories in a fresh way to a generation that may have never heard of the names or history of the characters. Through film, he educated us, honored those who paved the way for us, and encouraged us to celebrate who we are: young, gifted, and Black.

Then, as if he hadn’t done enough, in Black Panther, he performed the role of a lifetime as King T’Challa. I’ll let you in on a secret, fellow navigator. I saw Black Panther multiple times in theaters, watched it several times on demand, and was even tempted to purchase it for my movie library (this is pending). To say that the movie changed my life would be an inaccurate statement. Instead, the movie reignited a sense of pride I once carried proudly as if it was a badge of honor for being an African woman in America.

There are very few films about the Continent (fictional countries or not) that depict the brilliance, ingenuity, and beauty of Africa and her people. In 2020, we’re still viewed as savages, poor, and uneducated. Those of us who make it out and obtain a world-class education seldom return to apply our knowledge to developing the places we came from. Instead, we work to maintain the privileged lives we’ve come to know; we work to survive in another man’s land. Meanwhile, our homes continue to be stripped, plundered, and pillaged by outsiders of resources only found in our soil.

Outside of his films, I also think about the acts of service Chadwick Boseman performed. It makes sense now why he spent so much time visiting sick children and teens in hospitals. The stories he shared about the young people trying to hold on to life to see Black Panther now carry greater meaning. After news broke that he, too, had been diagnosed with cancer, everything about the way this man chose to spend his time on Earth became clear. Not knowing exactly how much time he had left, he pressed through to pay it forward and give back in ways we can only imagine.

As I reflect on the life and legacy of Chadwick Boseman, I can’t help but thank God for allowing this man to grace us with his presence on this earth for 43 years. Although I, too, think he still had so much to offer, the way he used his time is tremendously appreciated. I believe he fought until the end and lived out a purpose through his art that will (and has) transformed our generation. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t need another Black Panther because that role would never be done justice by any other actor. Chadwick Boseman embodied that character and gave life to it that only he could. He wasn’t just an actor on the stage. No, he was showing us what Black excellence could become if we chose to use our talents and intelligence for progress.

Through film, he educated us, honored those who paved the way for us, and encouraged us to celebrate who we are: young, gifted, and Black.

— Ethleen Sawyerr

There are very few celebrities, total strangers, that I’ve shed tears for upon hearing news of their passing. But Chadwick Boseman did something for Black people that very few actors and actresses have. He was right when he said, “There would be no Black Panther without Denzel Washington,” as he paid tribute to the man who privately paid for Boseman to attend a prestigious acting program in England. Years from now, because of what this man did to educate us through film, I believe voices will rise to say, “There would be no (insert name here) without Chadwick Boseman.”

Fellow navigator, under no circumstances do I believe Chadwick Boseman should be immortalized or treated like a god. However, we must stop to acknowledge those who use their influence and platforms to uplift and empower. I, for one, am grateful God created Chadwick Boseman because his will always be a name I remember. Would you agree? Tell me about it!

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