The first time I watched the film 42, I knew Chadwick Boseman was going to be a big star. He took playing the role of Jackie Robinson seriously and performed it with such excellence that the film will remain a classic for generations to come. After all, isn’t that what iconic work does? Leaves a lasting impact that stands the test of time? I’d like to believe so.
He would later go on to star in other incredible films such as Get On Up, Marshall, 21 Bridges, Black Panther, and more. And it is with great sadness that he is no longer with us since his heartbreaking passing from colon cancer at age 43. Although this loss is a difficult one to process and has been felt by many all over the world, the brilliant and extensive work Chadwick has done as an artist throughout his career will remain a powerful representation of legacy building. I’ve often perceived him as my generation’s Denzel Washington in the sense of his effortless class and swag, smart movie choices, and stunning film performances. Chadwick embodied and chose roles that were historical, exciting, legendary, and relatable. His stories spoke to the masses.
He gave people hope, especially people of color. I can’t express how much it means to not only see historical Black figures portrayed in the mainstream media in well-crafted and well-written ways, but to see a Black actor take on that weight, responsibility, and task with the seriousness and humbleness that Chadwick did. He was a shining star who didn’t seem to ever get carried away or caught up in the glitz or glam or scandals that a Hollywood life can bring, which is rare. Instead, he was a relatively private actor whose work spoke for itself.
One of his biggest films, Black Panther, introduced us to the world of Wakanda, a fictional yet captivating utopia where Black excellence and royalty were normal things. Here, there was infinite access to advanced technology, tools, and resources, and bold and outspoken women were warriors fighting for their country. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I will never forget it. And at the forefront was our very own King T’Challa. To this day, the film is a big deal and made a major cultural impact all over the world. In the times we’re living in today, a Black superhero that everyone can look to, appreciate, and joyfully celebrate? That’s amazing.
When I think about what it means to leave your mark on this world and all the work Chadwick has done, I understand the importance of legacy. He touched and changed lives. Since his passing, his family, friends, colleagues, and associates have had nothing but nice things to say about him and how wonderful it was to know him and have him in their lives. He did a lot for others and he will be greatly missed and celebrated. Losing Chadwick has prompted me to wonder and think deeply about my own legacy. What are you doing, building, or working towards that will exist when you are no longer here?
There will come a time when each of us will have to face the reality of our own mortality. How do you want to be remembered? Is this something you’re even thinking about or have thought of? You matter. Your legacy matters. And it may involve the creative work you do; the time you put in as a volunteer, coach, or instructor; the person you choose to spend your life with or have children with; or anything else you’re committing your time to for a greater good. Whatever it is you’re doing, I hope you’re building with legacy in mind. I know I intend to.
Work harder, stay humble, hold the door open for others, and continue doing meaningful work. I understand legacy building will look different for us all, but having great examples to look to helps. Keep doing. Keep building. Keep growing. And keep working. It matters.