On heroes and nobility: a tribute to Chadwick Boseman

Reflecting on the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman and watching the many YouTube videos of him speaking or others speaking about him, the one thread that stood out to me was just how much people were impacted by his role as King T’challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the movie – I thought the plot was weak and the special effects were superfluous.

However, my personal reservations aside, I get what King T’challa meant to viewers. I totally get the need to create these epic characters who live on the edge, face challenges on all sides and still bear the burdens of leadership with nobility, grace and dignity. I get the value of a character created not just to entertain but to re-write distorted narratives of cultural, political and socio-economic oppression of a people group. I get it.

There’s something in us that desperately seeks to raise people on to a pedestal and confer on them a demi-god status so that through them we can escape the drudgery and hopelessness that plagues everyday living in a world full of painful contradictions.

We know the (cute and chiselled) man in tight red pants with a big ‘S’ appliqued on his chest will outlast the evil genius with a bloody grin plastered on his pasty face. We know how the story ends; yet every time there’s a new instalment of these movies, we queue up, buy tickets, eat the obligatory popcorn and indulge in sheer escapism.

I feel you. We need heroes.

Have you ever worked with people, talked with people who made you feel like anything is possible? I’m talking about people whose lives, character and attributes inspire you to be better and to pivot towards purpose. Through the bravery of T’challa, a people group have caught a tantalising glimpse of an alternative future where they can exchange the narrative of oppression for empowerment.

So, here’s my challenge to you in the wake of Boseman’s demise. We need you to be a hero.

There are lives waiting for you to show them that they are destined to be more than just a tragic statistic.

Unvarnished truth

I’m not asking you to go sew a cape neither am I asking you to go bulk up in the gym. I’m asking you to LIVE better, to DO better, to LOVE better, to TALK better, to be a better EXAMPLE. You don’t know it, but there are lives waiting for you to show them that they are destined to be more than just a tragic statistic.

If I had to distil everything I learnt from my experience as a secondary school teacher into one point, it’ll be that young people need role models. They are surrounded by so much dysfunction that they are gasping to see somebody with a working and functional life. Hear me well: they’re not looking for perfection, they’re looking for people who are fully aware of their kryptonite but refuse to give up and instead continue to walk in integrity.

It’s the same for adults too. We need heroes. I am drawn towards women who operate in many spheres but manage to live a balanced life. These people are my heroes. I don’t even know a lot of them from Adam (thank you YouTube!) but I’m attracted to what they have to say about how they manage to wear different hats and keep every plate spinning without dropping one.

You need a hero.

Weak plot or not, I cannot argue with the value T’challa added to the lives of many around the world.

So, thank you Chadwick Boseman for the gift of T’challa. Thank you for throwing open the portals of possibility for young people around the world who caught a glimpse of an alternative future through your life and work. Thank you for being a hero and for bearing your pain with dignity. Thank you for continuing to live life to the full even with a death sentence hanging over you.

To those of us still breathing, please find a hero. Find that one person whose life inspires you to chase down the impossible.

Even more importantly, BE A HERO. Being a hero doesn’t mean you do everything perfectly but that the whole trajectory of your life inspires people towards greatness. Many generations are waiting to stand on your shoulders.

Even a realist like myself needs a hero to look up to for moments of inspiration and escapism just because dreaming is free!

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