Two friends gone

by Dr. E. Faye Williams

(—Cancer is not our friend! In one month, it has taken two awesome friends who, given their accomplishments, had the potential for more valuable contributions. Their loss is significant during these chaotic times.

Characterized as geriatric, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a youthful 87-year-old—in spirit and heart.  She didn’t accept the status quo or abandon her principles because “things were always that way.”  She had the heart of a warrior and battled against the retrenchment of regressive conservatism in the political mainstream.

She did not live a privileged life devoid of gender discrimination.  She rejected gender superiority.  Like most women of her generation, she endured, yet rejected, the stereotypes of female intemperance and unsuitability for occupations commonly perceived as men’s work.  She used her legal acumen to attack long-established barriers to female access.  She saw value and worth in all human beings and worked energetically to remove cultural and societal barriers.

Her understanding of gender discrimination informed her understanding of racial discrimination.  When SCOTUS declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional and relieved states with historically racially discriminatory practices of preclearance requirements for changes to voting laws, Justice Ginsburg famously stated, “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective…Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

At 43, Chadwick Boseman was on the opposite end of the age continuum as Justice Ginsburg.  He had just begun making his mark on the palette of the American culture.  His body-of-work gives preview to the extent of our loss in his future efforts.

In both 42 and Marshall, he provided a realistic look at the challenges and triumphs of Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall, navigating racism indigenous to the “Land of the Free.”  I was riveted to his portrayal of James Brown in Get on Up in which the physicality of his performance was a wonder to behold.

Although Chadwick routinely performed at a superior level and, predictably, would only get better, his real contribution to our community and the world was his portrayal of King T’Challa of the fictional nation of Wakanda in the film Black Panther. It was truly a matter of wonder to see the growing anticipation and excitement in OUR community before release of the movie.  His T’Challa was a depiction of a Black male projecting positive, uplifting behaviors.  These depictions gave many—young and old—a sense of pride and hope, and the confidence to strive for a more fruitful future.

Chadwick’s greatest achievement would be after his death when we learned of his medical challenges and the grace and strength with which he faced them in the final four years of his life.  Making ten films in the span of his illness, his deportment defied the ravages of the disease.  He left nothing on the table; he lived using God-given talents to live his best life.  Please go online and view his Howard University commencement speech.  We glimpse a measure of the fortitude in his character and the strength he shared with us—even when we were unaware!

My two subjects fought differently but acted in common to reject wasted time and procrastination.  They acted with courage and conviction for purposes higher than themselves.  Rather than allowing disease to consume them, they used their talents to serve as exemplars for the larger community.  They consumed the time they were given to be their best selves.

In this time of chaos and uncertainty, we would be well-served to live with the same commitment to humanity.

(Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women.)

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