Make sweeping delcarations/Qualify every statement
Wow. That’s kind of a lot, and pretty complex. And yet it’s so simple, so Zen.
Life is an exercise in holding space—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally—for all that feels like contradiction. We are here to reconcile it all, to dig it up in order to smooth it out, to make peace in the morass, to turn manure into fertilizer. The flexibility to hold mutually divergent ideas at the same time, and to move fluidly from one pole to its opposite and back again in dynamic balance—this is my most valuable lesson from this year.
In April I wrote about the best thing that could happen from this pandemic: Connection. It’s already happening, and I’m so grateful. I’m also inspired, empowered, and ambitious for more.
My heart is so heavy this weekend, friends. Maybe yours is, too. Humanity lost such a bright star last night. I post today to collect, for myself in one place, words and videos of and about Chadwick Boseman, so I may return here for inspiration and grace hereafter. This is my tribute.
Read about his most visible and important body of work, in the space of only seven years. I wish I had known him sooner. But I’m sure many would agree, once we knew him, we were mesmerized. Just seeing him, watching and hearing him speak, we felt an immediate kinship. Superhero? Yes, absolutely. And also someone we could sit down with over a drink and really relate—easily. At least that’s my fantasy. Through his work, he calls us to be better, to fulfill our potential.
In a pop taxonomy of black male nobility, he is cut squarely from the mold of Barack Obama — generally cool-blooded, affable, devoted to unglamorous fundamentals — a figure whom he is doubtlessly on a shortlist to portray in an inevitable epic.
Boseman told me his method of humanizing superhumans begins with searching their pasts. He’s looking for gestational wounds, personal failures, private fears — fissures where the molten ore of experience might harden into steel.
Watch Black moviegoers, young and old, express what he means to them in his portrayal of Wakanda’s King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. This video made me cry. To see the deep and profound emotions of people who finally see themselves represented on the big screen—why have they had to wait so long? It reminds me of how I cried during Crazy Rich Asians, when I heard Yeh Lai Xiang, a song I grew up listening to, when I heard such familiar words spoken by the characters, when I watched and understood viscerally the meaning of the ma jiang scene. Watch also how Boseman emerges from behind the curtain to meet and embrace each of these fans—see his presence, his empathy, his respect, humility, grace, humor, and magnanimity.
Watch him speak on behalf of his colleagues on their challenges in their industry, and the meaning of their success for themselves and those who will come after them. Watch how he effortlessly inhabits confidence, strength, humility, authenticity, hope, and challenge. See how he graciously accepts accolades while simultaneously conveying a message that we have work yet to do (that’s how I hear it). To be “young, gifted, and Black,” indeed.
Finally, watch—don’t just listen or read, really watch—his 2018 commencement address at his alma mater, Howard University. See his easy and relaxed, generous and relatable demeanor. Hear his words—stories of challenge, integrity, perseverance, and generosity—both his and the students’. Feel his hopes for and blessings on the graduates, and his admonishment to us all, to be better, to lead, to take the harder path, for the sake of those who come after us. Some brief exerpts:
But beyond the physical campus, the Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here. You have been climbing this academic slope for at least three or four years. For some of you, maybe even a little bit more. Throughout ancient times, institutions of learning have been built on top of hills to convey that great struggle is required to achieve degrees of enlightenment. Each of you had your own unique difficulties with the hill.
Most of you graduating here today struggled against one or more of the impediments or obstacles I’ve mentioned in order to reach this hill top. When completing a long climb, one first experiences dizziness, disorientation and shortness of breath due to the high altitude, but once you become accustomed to the climb, your mind opens up to the tranquility of the triumph.
As is often the case, those that follow most often enjoy the results of the progress you gained. You love the university enough to struggle with it. Now, I have to ask you that you have to continue to do that even now that you received your demands. Even if you are walking today, you have to continue to do that. Everything that you fought for was not for yourself. It was for those that come after. You could have been disgruntled and transferred, but you fought to be participants in making this institution the best that it can be.
Your freedom of speech was exercised in a way where you can contribute to this place. It also shows that you can contribute to the democracy. The administration and the campus police at the time when I was protesting were not nearly as open-minded as this current one. I know this was a difficult time, but because of both of you, I believe Howard is a few steps closer to the actualization of its potential, the potential that many of us have dreamed for it. Students, your protests are also promising because many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization. The fact that you have struggled with this university that you love is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.
…execs of the show called me into their offices and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one: Where is my father? The exec answered, “Well, he left when you were younger.” Of course. Okay. Okay. Question number two: In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly did my little brother and I have to go into foster care? Matter-of-factly, he said, “Well, of course she is on heroin”.
That could be real, I guess, but I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we are around here assuming that the black characters in the show are criminals, on drugs and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it? That word stereotypical lingered. …I was let go from that job on the next day.
…But am I actually black balled. We are hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you are difficult. As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards. I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa.
Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hill top and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.
Our time on this earth is truly short, my friends. What are we doing with it?
God bless you, Mr. Boseman, for your shining example. You are a king of our hearts in so many ways. Now you rest. We carry on in your honor.
Thank you, Friend Donna, for this thoughtful, introspective, and important piece.
I will look more closely, make my self-assessment, and meditate on the results.
Friends, this is more than a one-time exercise. These questions don’t only apply to events of 2020. If we all took the time and space to query like this regularly, of ourselves and one another, with honesty, transparency, and integrity, think of the possibilities!
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” (Maya Angelou)
We’re halfway through what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant years of our lifetime. It’s certainly not the year anyone was expecting. This seems like a good time to engage in a bit of introspection and self-evaluation, a “report card,” if you will.
Tom Bodett once said, “The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”
What lessons have we learned over these last six months? How have we been tested? Individually and collectively, are we passing, or has our failure been illuminated? Let’s take a few moments to think about the classes we’ve all been enrolled in, and how capably we’ve faced the tests they’ve put before us.