As the world continues to mourn the loss of actor Chadwick Boseman, many have continued to pay tribute to the actor and his impact on entertainment, sports and the Black community. I figured I would pay my tribute as well.

Chadwick Boseman’s death hits close to home for the Black community, even in sports. Boseman played many influential Black figures throughout his career. One of them was Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film “42.”

Robinson was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. Robinson broke the color barrier and ended racial segregation in professional sports, but his activism did not stop there. He protested for civil rights during the 1960s, advocated for social justice and racial integration and brought awareness to issues such as redlining.

Boseman reintroduced younger generations to Robinson through his role in the film. It is important for Black youth and the Black community entirely to be educated on individuals who look like them that helped paved the way for them to be where they are now. Robinson was the role model for athletes to use their platform to bring awareness to social justice, just like we are seeing now in the NBA bubble, NFL and other leagues as conversations on racial justice continue to become prominent. Boseman’s talent and dedication to the role helped the Black community embrace our Black heroes.

Just five years earlier, Boseman portrayed another influential Black figure on the collegiate level in the film, “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story” in 2008. Ernie Davis was a Syracuse University football player and the first African American to win a Heisman Trophy.

 Boseman also played a Black superhero, T’Challa, in the 2018 film “Black Panther.” What was special about Boseman bringing a Black superhero to the big screen was the uplifting and refreshing Black representation. Many major films involving Black actors and actresses have portrayed the typical “Black people are oppressed” roles, and are a constant, painful reminder of past and current history in this country.

It was rejuvenating seeing Black people as victors, powerful and important in “Black Panther.” It gave the Black community a sense of dignity and pride, no matter the occupation. It gave little Black boys and girls a superhero to enjoy as a kid and look up to.

In the athletic world, many players held up the “Wakanda forever” salutes after scoring a goal, touchdown or basket. Victor Oladipo put on a T’Challa mask while Chadwick Boseman assisted him with the “Black Panther” tribute dunk during the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest. NFL player Michael Bennett hilariously yelled “Wakanda Forever” during lineup announcements ahead of NFL games. Chicago Bulls player Wendell Carter Jr. wore a “Black Panther”-inspired outfit to the 2018 NBA Draft.

It gave Black athletes the confidence boost to perform at a high level for their teams. Following the news of Boseman’s passing, athletes like Lebron James and Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to Boseman with the “Wakanda Forever” salute.

Some people, including myself, found it funny when players yelled the salute during games or seeing Black people show up to the movie theater in batakaris, dashikis and wax print costumes to see “Black Panther.” But all jokes aside, that is just how significant this film was to the Black community. It connected African Americans to African traditions. Many of us cannot trace our heritage because it was stripped from us. It celebrated African traditions and Blackness. It was a breath of fresh air.

Boseman’s portrayal of “Black Panther” made the Black community feel empowered to do anything. Boseman’s entire catalog was dedicated to telling important Black stories to uplift the culture in heart-wrenching times. He made it his duty, his purpose and his passion.

As an aspiring journalist whose job is to tell stories, Boseman helped me appreciate my role in telling stories that change the world and to work every day to grow as a storyteller. In times like now when the Black community has done so much mourning and speaking out for justice, I’ve been inspired by his love for telling Black stories as well, both on campus and in Bloomington-Normal. The loss of a hero, a Black hero, after losing several of them in 2020 alone is a blow to the Black community.

Now do you see why we vouch for positive Black representation? Now do you see why we say representation matters? Now do you see why Black representation in sports, entertainment, newsrooms, schools, technology and every other industry that exists is important? As Black people, we must see ourselves. We must see people that look like us be in these spaces and roles so that it inspires us to reach our dreams as well. And honestly, this goes for anyone. Representation for any group, no matter the race, gender, religion (and the list goes on) is essential.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some people just like Boseman in my life and on this very campus who are leaders and will be in the future. His loss was a blow for me, but at the same time, I’m encouraged to know that he inspired many people to stand for what he stood for, so the future will be in good hands.

DARNYSHA MITCHELL is Sports Reporter for The Vidette. She can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter at @DarnyshaM 

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I agree with all that you have stated. However, I would add that not only is it important for Black people and other racial or marginalized identity groups to see themselves, it is also important for others to see Blacks as more than they may have previously thought. In agreement with your position, that was the beauty of the movie Black Panther. It also helped us to reimagine what Africa looks like in some areas and what African countries and the African Diaspora could be had they not suffered from the global colonization and exploitation that continues to this very day.

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