My world stopped last Friday when news of the passing of Chadwick Boseman hit the internet. Chadwick, at the age of 43, was announced dead after a four-year battle with Stage III colon cancer. News that shocked his fans all around the world because it had been kept private that Chadwick had spent the last few years battling a terminal illness.
Between 2016 and 2020, Chadwick had become one of the most prominent and inspirational Black actors of our day. He starred in films such as Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, and 21 Bridges. My first introduction to him was the film 42, where he played the renowned Jackie Robinson. Most notably, he came to be celebrated for his roles in Marvel Studio’s Captain America: Civil War; Avengers: Infinity War; Avengers: Endgame; and as the title character in the Oscar-winning, record-breaking film Black Panther.
In 2018, Black Panther was the highest grossing superhero film of all time. And on its release it was reviewed as the most meaningful and culturally significant film for Black culture.
For the first time, Black people were able to see themselves and their story spectacularly told on screen. Black people were given our own legend who we could mythologize, our own hero who we could celebrate — no longer beholden to the legends and the heroes with white skin, nor forced to insert ourselves into the mythologies of Europe and Western standards of exceptionalism.
Instead, Black people were given a hero with Black skin, a hero from Africa. A hero who not only looked like us but who was us. Black people were given a film in which we could imagine the existence of a society free from the marginalization that comes with having Black skin. And what makes his passing so inconceivable is that while quietly battling a terminal illness, Chadwick — not Black Panther — became a hero to generations of Black boys and Black girls by placing the power, beauty and excellence of “Wakanda Forever” eternally in their hearts.
In his 2018 commencement speech to the graduating class at Howard University, in words that ring more poignantly now after his death, Chadwick spoke to the graduates about the importance of living in their purpose. He said: “You would rather find purpose than a job or a 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 that you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career, … the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
“Chadwick Boseman’s life teaches us a lot about living into our purpose and how we ought to make the most of the moments we have been given.”
As Christians, Chadwick Boseman’s life teaches us a lot about living into our purpose and how we ought to make the most of the moments we have been given. None of us are promised to see another day. None of us are promised that the work and passions we have left unfinished for today — that we will be there again to greet them tomorrow. Thus, we must live each day, each moment, with the courage to pursue what “God put inside you that you are supposed to give to the world.”
When we live into purpose, we are operating at our fullest capacity even though we may not get to produce everything we have the capability to produce. Likewise, living into purpose does not mean we will not suffer hardship, but it does mean we are fully optimizing the time, the opportunities and the talents God has blessed us with — so we may rest peacefully when our time on earth is through.
As Chadwick said to Howard’s graduating class, we must “press on with purpose.” We must press on with purpose because pressing on is the only thing we can do to keep us grounded when the troubles of this world attempt to knock us off balance.
Likewise, as life throws us things outside of our control, we must press on with purpose, trusting that God is in control. When unarmed Black men get killed by police, we must press on with purpose, having faith in the righteousness of God to bring justice to God’s people. When the world around us feels uncertain, and 2020 continues to give blow after blow to our spirit, the church must press on with purpose to be a refuge for weary souls.
Chadwick Boseman pressed on with purpose while fighting for his life and giving so many people a reason to live. Now, we can celebrate him and his entrance into the ancestral plain because he lived into his purpose — which was to bless, encourage and inspire the world to be better than how he found it. Chadwick Forever!
Darrell R. Hamilton II is pastor for formation and outreach at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain in the Boston metropolitan area. Originally from Edmond, Okla., he is a graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma and Wake Forest School of Divinity.