On August 28, Chadwick Boseman passed away after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43 years old. He died at home with his wife and family by his side. The outpouring of condolences on social media only begins to tell the story of Chadwick’s impact.
Chadwick Boseman began his acting career in 2003 but didn’t land his first starring film role until the 2013 movie 42 in which he played Jackie Robinson. He also played James Brown in Get On Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017). Chadwick was becoming known for taking the leading role in biopics, to the point where many joked if there was a movie coming out about an important person in Black history, Chadwick is the only one who could do it.
I think he understood the significance of playing these roles. Black history is seldom taught thoroughly in schools across the nation. Most people know who Jackie Robinson is but don’t know the level of pain and anguish he went through breaking the color barrier in baseball. Chadwick brought that story to life. Many people know of James Brown the singer but not James the man; Chadwick told his story. Sadly, most people don’t know who Thurgood Marshall is. He was the first African American to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice. Chadwick made sure his story wasn’t lost to history.Choosing to play Thurgood Marshall and Black Panther while facing multiple surgeries and going through chemotherapy could not have been easy. But Chadwick understood his purpose.
The biggest role he played, however, was that of a fictional character. In February 2018, he played the titular role in Black Panther. An African superhero in the Marvel Universe, this movie was groundbreaking. After 10 years of Marvel Comics films, this was the first one starring a Black hero. Little Black children across the country were finally able to see a leading hero, in a great movie, that looked like them. This movie created a sense of pride and hope in Black people like few before it.
Chadwick was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. I have to imagine that influenced the choices he made thereafter. Choosing to play Thurgood Marshall and Black Panther while facing multiple surgeries and going through chemotherapy could not have been easy. But Chadwick understood his purpose.
In his 2018 commencement speech at Howard University, Chadwick talks about finding your purpose. He talks about using the sting of pain and defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined for you. He then goes on to quote Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This speech came two years after his cancer diagnosis. Perhaps that was the catalyst to help him see his purpose, to be an inspiration to children and adults all around the world. Through the surgeries and the chemotherapy, Chadwick kept smiling, kept making appearances, kept doing the Wakanda salute, and kept breathing hope into people. He inspired Black children, not just as King T’Challa, but in all of his roles, to dream greater than they could have possibly imagined.
With the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this week, it has been a tough one for Black America. And now, another loss in Chadwick. But even here, he was leading, showing us a way forward. As he battled cancer, Chadwick did what we have always been taught to do: put on a smiling face, do your job, and don’t complain. We have been taught that no matter what life throws at us, we have to keep pushing.
But I am tired. Black death shouldn’t feel this normal.
I find myself asking today, between police shootings, helicopter accidents, and health inequalities, where can we feel safe? Where is our place of liberty, freedom, and a carefree attitude? In addition to these widespread trials, we all have our own individual ones. For me, this week, it’s the loss of my job. Like so many others, 2020 has delivered one wave of loss after another.
But today, despite all these losses, I also feel inspired by Chadwick. In the same commencement speech, he told the graduating class to find their purpose over a job or a career. Purpose is why you are put here, it is why you are on this planet at this very moment. He encouraged these students—and now us—to remember that any struggles you face are only meant to shape you for your purpose.
If there is one lesson I can take from Chadwick’s life, it is simply this: find your purpose and walk in it. Chadwick was raised in a Christian home, and I can’t help but believe the lessons he learned in his youth went with him everywhere in life and shaped the man he would become. I would say he is gone too soon, but I am reminded of the words of David in Psalm 139: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Chadwick made the most of the time the Lord had allotted for him. May we all find our own purposes and do the same.
And it’s still WAKANDA FOREVER.