The world didn’t know that Chadwick Boseman was privately fighting his own battle against cancer. Rather than highlight his own story, the Black Panther star made sure that the attention was turned to kids facing their own health challenges.
Boseman visited children with cancer at St. Jude’s hospital back in 2018, according to an Instagram post from the hospital. “He was an incredible role model for our patients and children from all around the world,” the organization wrote.
Of course, Boseman also inspired a generation of young fans when he played King T’Challa in the 2018 release of Black Panther. Boseman’s starring role was inspirational not just for young Avengers fans, but also for young Black kids who too often didn’t get to see faces that looked like their own on screen. Boseman’s passion for young people didn’t go unnoticed, even by Barack Obama.
“Chadwick came to the White House to work with kids when he was playing Jackie Robinson,” Obama tweeted on Saturday. “You could tell right away that he was blessed. To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”
Boseman died Friday, Aug. 28, of colon cancer. Few people knew that he was sick, but his team posted on Twitter that he had been battling cancer since 2016. Many of the movies that he was well known for “were filmed between and during countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
— Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) August 29, 2020
Since the announcement, many kids and families have been mourning the loss of Boseman. One touching photo posted by a Twitter user called King Westbrook showed a young Black boy posing with his Avenger superheroes, creating a memorial for Boseman. The photo received more than 600,000 likes.
“Kian wanted to thank everyone from the bottom of his heart for all the loving and kind words given to him for this post,” Westbrook wrote. “When he found out about Chadwicks passing, he was heartbroken. But he knows death is a part for being human, and wanted to cope with losing his hero this way.”
— King Westbrook (@KingWestbrook7) August 29, 2020
Another Twitter use, ROYL, posted a similar picture of his nephew and many action figures with their right hands raised in a salute to Black Panther. “My nephew wanted to give Black Panther a Funeral,” ROYL wrote. “I’m not crying you are.”
My nephew wanted to give Black Panther a Funeral.😭 I’m not crying you are. pic.twitter.com/cdpPr2V6Yx
— ROYL (@98Royalty) August 29, 2020
Some parents were inspired by Boseman’s dedication to his art and his determination to keep making culturally-important films even while battling cancer. Katherine Gilmore Richardson, a Philadelphia City Council member and mom of three hopes that her children will be inspired by that lesson.
“He continued to live and thrive and fight,” Richardson told The Washington Post. “And that is what I want my son, who is probably T’Challa’s biggest fan, to remember him by. That it’s about the fight within.”
Other parents were concerned about how the news of Boseman’s death would affect their kids.
“It was such a cultural moment for him to see himself in that film,” Stephanie Sneed said of her 9-year-old son. Her son learned about Boseman’s death because he saw Sneed’s reaction when she heard the news.
Still, other parents are trying to keep the news from their kids, particularly when children, especially Black children, are already overwhelmed with issues stemming from the pandemic and the national movement to highlight racial injustice.
Imani Cheers decided not to tell her 6-year-old son Isaiah about Boseman’s death. Earlier on the day he died Cheers had Isaiah at an event to commemorate the March on Washington. There, Isaiah learned about the violence committed among people ranging from Emmett Till to Breonna Taylor. Cheers didn’t want to add more sadness onto her son.
“He was immersed with so much,” she said. “So much pain and death of young people who look like him. I just want to shield him from the pain of losing one more person who he absolutely idolized.”