As the world continues to mourn the loss of actor Chadwick Boseman, many have continued to pay tribute to the actor and his impact on entertainment, sports, and the Black community. I figured I pay my tribute as well.
Chadwick Boseman’s death hits close to home for the Black community. And even in sports. Boseman played many influential Black figures throughout his career. One of them was Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film “42”.
Robinson was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). Robinson broke the color barrier and ended racial segregation in professional sports. But his activism didn’t stop there. He protested at civil rights protests during the 1960s, advocated for social justice and racial integration, and brought awareness to issues such as redlining.
Boseman reintroduced younger generations to Robinson through his role in the film. It’s important for Black youth and the Black community entirely to be educated on individuals who look like them that helped paved for them to be where they are now. Robinson was the role model for athletes to use their platform to bring awareness to social justice, just like we’re seeing now in the NBA bubble, NFL, and other leagues as conversations on racial justice continue to become prominent. Boseman’s talent and dedication to the role helped the Black community embrace our Black heroes.
Just five years earlier, Boseman portrayed another influential Black figure on the collegiate level in the film “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story” in 2008. Ernie Davis was a Syracuse University football player and was the first African American to win a Heisman Trophy.
And of course, he played a Black superhero named T’Challa in the 2018 film “Black Panther”. What was special about Boseman bringing a Black superhero to the big screen was the uplifting and refreshing Black representation. Many major films involving Black actors and actresses portrayed the typical “Black people are oppressed” roles, a constant painful reminder of past and current history in this country.
It was rejuvenating seeing Black people as victors, powerful, and important in Black Panther. It gave the Black community a sense of dignity and pride, no matter the occupation. It gave little Black boys and girls a superhero to enjoy as a kid and look up to.
In the athletic world, many players held up the “Wakanda forever” salutes after scoring a goal, touchdown, or basket. Victor Oladipo put on a T’Challa mask while Chadwick Boseman assisted him with the “Black Panther” tribute dunk during the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest. NFL player Michael Bennett hilariously yelled “Wakanda Forever” during lineup announcements ahead of NFL games. Chicago Bulls player Wendell Carter Jr. wore a Black Panther inspired outfit to the 2018 NBA Draft.
It gave Black athletes the confidence boost to perform at a high level for their teams. Following the news of Boseman’s passing, athletes like Lebron James and Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to Boseman with the “Wakanda Forever” salute.
Some people, including myself, found it funny when players yelled the salute during games or seeing Black people show up to the movie theater in batakaris, dashikis, and wax prints costumes to see Black Panther. But all jokes aside, that’s just how significant this film was to the Black community. It connected African Americans to African traditions, which many of us cannot trace our heritage because it was stripped from us. It celebrated African traditions and Blackness. It was a breath of fresh air.
Boseman’s portrayal of Black Panther made the Black community feel empowered to do anything. Boseman’s entire catalog was dedicated to telling important Black stories to uplift the culture in heart wrenching times. He made it his duty, his purpose, and his passion.
As an aspiring journalist, whose job is to tell stories, Boseman helped me appreciate my role in telling stories that change the world and to work every day to grow as a storyteller. In times like now where the Black community has done so much mourning and speaking out for justice, I’ve been inspired by his love for telling Black stories to help tell Black stories as well, both on campus and Bloomington-Normal. The loss of a hero, a Black hero, after losing several of them in 2020 alone is a blow to the Black community.
Now do you see why we vouch for positive Black representation? Now do you see why we say representation matters? Now do you see why Black representation in sports, entertainment, newsrooms, schools, technology, and every other industry that exists is important? As Black people, we have to see ourselves. We have to see people that look like us be in these spaces and roles so that it inspires us to reach our dreams as well. And honestly, this goes for anyone. Representation for any group, no matter race, gender, religion, and the list go on is essential.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some people just like Boseman in my life and on this very campus that are leaders and will be in the future. His loss was a blow for me, but at the same time, I’m encouraged to know that he inspired many people to stand for what he stood for, so the future will be in good hands.
DARNYSHA MITCHELL is Sports Reporter for The Vidette. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DarnyshaM
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