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When We Saw Chadwick Boseman On Screen, We Saw More Than A Superhero

 Chadwick Boseman died of colorectal cancer in late August at the age of 43.
Gage Skidmore
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Creative Commons / Flickr.com/people/22007612@N05
Chadwick Boseman died of colorectal cancer in late August at the age of 43.

I was exhausted and could not figure out why. Plans for a socially distanced meet-up were canceled, blamed on the passing storms. The following day, even with the sun shining, I couldn’t manage to motivate myself.

It wasn’t until rewatching a tribute to "Black Panther" and Chadwick Boseman that I realized the source of my inertia. I didn’t know the star of the record-breaking blockbuster any more than I knew James Brown, Thurgood Marshall or Jackie Robinson, the icons he portrayed. Yet his death, of colorectal cancer at the age of 43, hit like the loss of a loved one.

Most of us had no idea that while he was embodying African American icons and a superhero, he was waging a battle that claims the lives of a disproportionate number of Black men. How ironic, that at a time when we are grieving the overwhelming losses of Black life to violence and COVID-19, we're forced to confront the reality of yet another real and present danger.

When we saw Chadwick on screen in "Black Panther," we saw more than just a superhero. We saw what was possible for our community, a place where we were unconstrained by centuries of suppression, discrimination and systemic marginalization. It was our utopia, filled with the brilliance, bravery and boundless creativity of our people. It was a world we dreamed of for our children and one that paid homage to our ancestors. It celebrated the strength of our women and the dignity of our men. It was a glimpse of what might be.

"Black Panther" is our story. It's a fable of pushing through obstacles, pain, grief, self-doubt and internal community strife. The film resonates universally because of its common themes, but to see the richness and beauty of who we are on the silver screen means something else for us.

In real life, Chadwick was an alum of Howard University, a historically Black institution. Little known before his portrayal of the Godfather of Soul, he went on to embody some of our most revered history-makers while fighting a disease that causes fatigue and crippling pain. While reminding us of our promise, he was undergoing chemotherapy and surgeries. He never shared his struggle or sought sympathy. He wanted only to inspire us with his craft.

Losing a talent like his would be profound at any time. But losing him in this moment – in the midst of a pandemic and racial unrest – exacerbates its heaviness, because in his final years he continued to give when he knew his very life was being taken.

If that doesn’t define the legacy of our people, I don’t know what does.

Andréa Comer is the executive director of Educators for Excellence in Hartford.

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