Inspiring until the end
Many people inspire us with how they live this life, but not everyone can inspire by how they leave it. Chadwick Boseman achieved success through dedication to craft and higher principles. After his diagnosis with stage III colon cancer in 2016, he showed us how to live in the best way possible while sharing your gifts and how to depart with integrity.
Chadwick Boseman’s groundbreaking role of King T’Challa, the Black Panther gave a generation of young black Americans an image to aspire to. His portrayal of the Marvel superhero showcased intellect, vulnerability, respect, and physicality simultaneously, the type of black character there is too little of on-screen.
Before that unforgettable performance, he lost a job on a soap opera because he voiced his discomfort with the character’s stereotypical storyline. He pivoted from that setback and channeled to a destiny he was meant to fulfill.
He chose to portray people who used their craft for purpose, as he did. Before the global phenomenon of “Black Panther,” he played real-life icons, James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall. Besides icons, he played complex characters. In his most recent film, Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” his character is a Vietnam squad leader whose larger-than-life persona drives the narrative.
Off-screen, he realized the magnitude of being a role model and its impact. Boseman teared up when talking about two boys whose cancer was terminal and how they were holding on to watch the movie. Seeing how much the film meant to them made him work harder. He felt their anticipation and pain.
Now, we know the personal connection he had to that pain.
In a Howard University commencement address in 2018, he told the graduating class to “press on with pride and press on with purpose.” He lived that message. After his diagnosis, he went on to shoot seven films, including the physically demanding Marvel movies.
When he shot “Da 5 Bloods” in the heat of a jungle in Thailand, director Spike Lee had no idea one of his actors was undergoing cancer treatment. Lee remembered how “He was there every single minute in the moment.”
He chose to be present when he found the strength to use his platform to promote worthy causes. In April, he made an Instagram video to launch an initiative to donate $4.2 million in protective equipment to hospitals that serve in black communities. That video caused concern and backlash over his weight loss, which he refused to address, maintaining a composed silence during his private struggle.
Even in his last days, he found joy in the moment. In one of his last text messages to his friend, Josh Gad, Boseman said, “We should take advantage of every moment we can to enjoy God’s creation, whether it be clear skies and sun or clouded over with gloom.” Even when his skies were darkest, he found a way to be the light.
That is the real lesson in Chadwick Boseman’s passing. If we are present no matter what is happening to us or around us, we can create immeasurable beauty that will last even after we are gone.
Rest in power, my king.