Two years ago, in preparing to deliver a high school graduation commencement address at the Fedcap School in Orange, New Jersey, I researched a number of commencement addresses by pop culture characters and personalities. During my research, I came across Chadwick Boseman’s 2018 Howard University Commencement Speech, at which he was awarded an honorary doctorate. His Speech was relevant on so many levels, but topically, he had just starred as the iconic Black Panther, a superhero for our times, especially in this #BlackLivesMatter Era. Additionally, Black Lightning had come on the set at the beginning of 2018, electrifying the small screen. With these two Black Superheroes in mind, I had my theme.
The story of the hero and the superhero has fascinated me since watching Superman, in black-and-white, as a kid. Superman being a white alien in the Metropolis, which could be any Big City, didn’t bother me, a born and bred Brooklynite. This racial stuff really doesn’t bother kids. There are kids of all races with Black athletes and entertainers on posters on their bedroom walls. (As a teenager, I had a poster of Bruce Lee on my bedroom wall.) It wasn’t until much later I became disturbed by the fact that all the superheroes I encountered in my youth were uber White! Later, as a poet, inspired, I wrote a series of poems on heroes, even comparing Superman and Superfly – which wasn’t a comparison at all. They both dressed outlandishly, but Superman beat Superfly by a long shot!
In my address I wanted to uplift this idea of the Black Superhero, that the graduates were living in a Wakanda of sorts, especially as it related to technology and how they are literally growing up with smart phones in their hands, and that technology advances at warp speed, making gadgets of yesterday obsolete today. I wanted the graduates to know that they were inheriting a world with endless possibilities. They were the students many had given up on. When I posed the question to the graduates, that many thought they wouldn’t make it to this graduation day, there was a resounding yes!
As I write this today, I think of Chadwick Boseman’s seemingly “brief” life. But in portraying iconic characters, from Jackie Robinson to James Brown, and of course the Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman lived many meaningful lives, using his gifts and talents to show the world “Blackness,” often emulated, in its glory. As such, he changed the world, and maybe a few minds.
The world, I told the graduating class, is waiting for them to change it. It was no coincidence that the school’s basketball team is the Panthers!
I am sad that I will not see Chadwick Boseman in another film. But I am inspired by his body of work. Despite the white superheroes I grew up on, when I started playing sports, especially baseball, I had other heroes to look up to, specifically Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. They both lived remarkable stories of overcoming, despite the white lash they faced that comes from insidious white racism.
Baseball remembers Jackie Robinson to this day, the man who broke the color barrier in “major league” baseball. Let us forever remember the Black Panther, the role that broke box offices and uplifted the narrative that #BlackSuperHeroesMatter. #WakandaForever!