This is the part of being Black in America that makes it seem like the air itself is against us. Makes it seem like no matter what we do, no matter how noble we are, no matter how lofty our dreams or aspirations… it just doesn’t f****n matter. It’s one thing to steal us from our land- we can acquire new land. It’s one thing to demonize our character- we can prove that wrong, just by living authentically. It’s one thing to systemically and systematically oppress us, rob us, take advantage of us, and brutalize us- we can fight back against all of those things.
And we always win in the end.
Every single time.
But to steal our heroes away? Suck them right out of the atmosphere, while we’re still breathing? Make us choke on the bile of loss and shocked devastation? How do we fight that. How do we heal from that. How do we mold new heroes out of nothing. But even more-
what do we do with our now orphaned hope and belief?
This is where I am.
I saw Black Panther twice in theatres.
The first time was at a screening on the Disney lot. I got to be a part of this earth shattering moment before the world did, and I remember feeling so special. I proudly sported my Black Lives Matter shirt and eagerly bantered with my friend Mark Ellis, who I owe a life debt to for getting me in. That was one of the few times in my life where I was not at all concerned about my Blackness, or what white people thought, or being perceived as a threat, or anything.
I was exuberant in my Blackness.
And after seeing the film, I was ecSTATIC.
The movie had rhythm, and grace, and style, and a dark skinned main family. The women onscreen finally reflected the women in my life; strong, decisive, and no nonsense, without losing anything in terms of intelligence, charm, or even straight up raw beauty. The music felt like it was crafted specifically for me, for us, and the ability to feel connected to all my Black people, no matter the heritage, was something I had only ever experienced one other time.
The death of Trayvon Martin.
That was when I realized, we’re all the same color on the other side of a silver bullet. It doesn’t matter what movies you’ve seen, what music you know, what part of Africa you’re from or not from, what American neighborhood you live in, or even what kind of education you have. When the gun pops, we’re all the same. And that was a sorrowful sense of solidarity to be embued with.
Black Panther, Chadwick, restored that for me. He gave me every single one of those things, but this time accompanied by melanin and sunlight. Smiles and inside jokes. For once, Black people could just breathe in a movie. Which meant we could just breathe in the theatre. Which meant we could just breathe at home.
Which meant we could just breathe.
Do you know the price of breath in America for Black people?
Chadwick gave us that for free.
With unrequited joy.
The second time I saw it was with my family. And by family, I mean my whole family. Siblings, mom, both sisters-in-law, youngest niece, and extended friends who are so close they basically have been written into the will at this point. We dressed up. We celebrated. We ranted and raved after the movie. We Wakanda Forever’d beside the poster in a group photo after. Two were white. And it didn’t matter.
I feel his death in my bones. Weighing me down like an iron dumbbell strapped to my legs, sinking me to the bottom of unbelief. He represented so much. He is what Black and Brown kids had been hoping was true from birth- he confirmed it. He affirmed it. We are a wonder; not this filth America has tried to make of us. We are a wonder.
In the afterschool program I used to work at, I had a young Black girl on the spectrum. One of the side effects of her condition was that she was bald. Do you know what she told me the week after the movie came out?
“Mr. Josh! I saw Black Panther!”
“Really? What did you think??”
“I liked the warrior girl. She was bald, like me!!”
I nearly cried on the spot.
Of course, she meant Okoye, brilliantly depicted by Danai Gurira.
Black Panther was riddled with so many gifts for so many people, for so many types of people.
And Chadwick was at the heart of it all.
I wonder if that little girl knows he’s gone.
I wonder if her mother told her.
The same week Black Panther came out, I learned my Granny had gone to see it with some of her 80 year old friends. She loved it. We talked on the phone about it for an hour.
Now I have to call her and tell her this Black man who transcended generations in hero form is dead.
The day the Black Panther died crushed me to the marrow. My legs went numb, my heart went dark, and my soul began to debate that anything truly mattered. Truthfully, I’ve not yet assessed the damage this has done to my spirit; I am sorely wounded, metamorphosed into something perhaps a little more grim and aloof. The love child of dire and desire. Yet beneath all the rubble of my grief, something else resiliently stirs.
This sacrifice will not be in vain.
Chadwick gave us everything and beyond to tell the stories of Blackness that needed to be told.
I can do no less.
No matter the cost.
Because the cost was his life.
And Chadwick kept on creating and giving anyway.
The Day The Black Panther Died
the moon plummeted to the earth
terraforming Black hearts
into true darkness
fire screeched out of aching tongues
dissolving into mist
upon contact with the pandemic, night air
the day the Black Panther died
we were not angry
we were broken
mocked by gods we didn’t believe in
desperate for the God we were raised under
ascending into the gods
Chadwick reminded we were destined to be
the day the Black Panther died
dormant memories resurrected
like a cabal of ancient wizards
evoking the life magic of death
the heaven spawned from hell
there is more power in our sorrow
than our silence
inspiration is spiritual energy
we lost a great king
and so great kings we must become
the Day the Black Panther died
we threw off our lingering shackles
and woke all the way up
Black, Brown, let all the marginalized shout