FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2018 photo, actor Chadwick Boseman poses for a portrait in New York to promote his film, “Black Panther.” Boseman, who played Black icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before finding fame as the regal Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, has died of cancer. His representative says Boseman died Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 in Los Angeles after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)
Published 09/01/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 17 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founding publisher, and editor in chief
The sudden death of American actor Chadwick Boseman, aka “King T’Challa,” struck me like an invisible train. I was blindsided and wasn’t ready to hear that unfortunate announcement. His character as the lead in the 2018 superhero film Black Panther gave me and the rest of Black America the same magic felt when the Obamas stepped onto the world stage for the first time.
When then Sen. Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, my eyes ran like the river Congo with pride that night. And the majesty of black excellence presented in Black Panther caused tears of delight and promise to stream down my face.
But too often, joy last but a blink of an eye when you’re living, while Black, in America. Sometimes, it only exists in our imaginations.
As if 2020 couldn’t get any worse, Boseman’s passing of cancer comes within a week of my stepfather’s death. That news, coupled with the continuation of Black people being killed by law enforcement officers and White vigilantes, who chose to take their skewed versions of justice into their hands, branded the ending of my summer the most traumatic I had experienced.
To add insult to injury concerning my already troubling year, I had recognized over the weekend that my biological father, stepdad, and Boseman died before reaching the age of retirement.
I blame their early deaths on white supremacy and consider their stories part of this Black Lives Matter movement toward racial justice in America.
According to the CDC, “Despite the narrowing of disparities in death rate for Blacks and Whites, disparities in the leading causes of deaths [(e.g., cancer and heart disease)], for Blacks compared with Whites remain large and persistent across the life span. Blacks had higher death rates than Whites for all-cause mortality in all age groups <65 years.”
Those refusing to see Boseman’s and my fathers’ premature deaths as not part of the current Black Lives Matter outcry are wholly detached and ill-informed of Black America’s long-standing reality to premature morbidity.
From the warmness of their mothers’ wombs to the darkened-coldness of their caskets, Boseman and both of my dads were delivered in-to and experienced a nation that seemingly suppressed and chipped away their spirts every second they drew breath.
Having a substantially lower life expectancy was seemingly their punishment for being born Black in America. They had become statistics, meeting early morbidity due to systemic racism that White moderates and the rest of America are slow to fix.
Every adverse event that 2020 has ushered-in from COVID-19 to more police killings of Black people, further solidifies my beliefs about this country. That it’s a racist place that refuses to see, accept, and heal the long-standing systemic, racially-unjust problems that continue to weather away Black lives to early graves.
To corporate HR departments that refused to hire qualified Black candidates with Black-sounding names like Kesha, America failed to reach its full potential.
And to schools that neglected to deliver more Black academic excellence that should have produced more Black doctors and Black medical researchers — who have the will power by birthright to serve people who look like them and find cures that plague Black Americans, America has failed to give them to us.
When Americans of every color and from every economic level poured into the streets this summer to protest the modern-day lynchings of our Black brothers and sisters, too large a portion of White Americans stayed home, turned their heads away from what they considered simple noises in the streets and refused to listen and act.
But why does racial injustice continue happening? Why does racism remain in this country even with a Mayor named Kesha Bottoms in Atlanta, Georgia, the brilliance of Boseman presented on film, and even after America’s first Black president?
One reason for the continued racial disparities is that too many White moderates in both political parties don’t care enough about Black lives. Dr. Martin Luther King warned us about them. The assumed fear is that by bending the arc of the moral universe just a little too much places their White realms at risk of slipping into an unexplored abyss, one out of White control. Hence, the controllable ‘known’ is their comfort zone — even if it comes at the suffering and ultimate cost of Black life. But this social order isn’t new.
During the institutional enslavement of Black people, White poor and middle-class Americans were comfortable knowing that Blacks weren’t coming for their jobs in northern states where slavery was outlawed.
In the south, wealthy planters who owned slaves sat comfortably on their balconies while their human property, Black people, worked themselves to destruction. And when an enslaved person expired in a cotton or sugar cane field from heat exhaustion, they were merely dragged away, buried in a shallow grave, and replaced by another Black body.
Early death was a regular occurrence for enslaved people; hence, nothing has changed in this country since its birth in 1776. The health disparities between Black and White America were present long before COVID-19 showed up.
Yet, somehow, through it all, Black America managed to survive and prevail enough to leave a positive impression on our individual families, community, and nation. Because when one is born Black, he or she arrives into this world with a profound resiliency, seeded deeply within his or her genetic code.
It’s what allowed my biological father to eventually grow into the family man he was destined to become. It’s what provided a pathway for my stepdad to raise me in America’s best schools and expose me to lands, languages, and cultures I otherwise would have never discovered. It permitted Boseman and the many talented hands that crafted Black Pather into a powerful image of a world free from white supremacy. Resiliency caused the power of the Black votes to elevate a Black family to the White House.
Imagine if Black Americans were given a fair chance from the beginning. Imagine if America made equitable investments into schools attended by Black children and committed to not breaking those investments. Perhaps we’d have more Black doctors and medical researchers finding those cures. Imagine if the health disparity gap between Black and White Americans didn’t exist because, from birth, every citizen had access to high-quality healthcare. Perhaps, we’d all be looking forward to more Black Panther movies, and I’d have more time with both of my dads.
Racism is more than just a White person yelling racial obscenities and mowing down Black Lives Matter protesters with their vehicles; it saturates every area of our lives, dwells within both political parties, and diseases every non-Black American who isn’t committed to racial justice.
Systemic racism must fall one way or another.
I am here to dismantle it brick by brick, and I pray more will answer this morally righteous call.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He’s also a freelance writer, appearing in TIME Magazine, Tulsa People, and Tulsa World. Frank has been featured in the New York Times, NBC Nightly News, and more. Frank graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.