In the Bantu language Xhosa, Ulwimi olunye alwanelanga tu means “One language is never enough.” In the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s passing, there is an inconceivable grief rippling across language barriers and cascading through communities and countries. The letters on my keyboard look like a jumbled mess — trying to use language to communicate this loss is an act I am unfamiliar with.
In 2018, Jamil Smith wrote about the revolutionary power of Black Panther. At the time, I was coming up on my fourth year in the classroom. I’d been teaching English Literature in North Carolina, and when the faintest news of an actual Black Panther film first started making the rounds, my freshmen were in for an overwhelming year. But they quickly sank their teeth into the world of Afrofuturism and its themes found in Pan-Africanism. Like every other Black nerd, we took it in with a collective insuck of breath, of life — of hope. It may seem a menial thing, another superhero movie, people thought. There was no way we could ever articulate the pride with which we viewed what was to come.
My wife bought me a Black Panther blanket and two pillowcases for my 28th birthday. I then bought myself the Black Panther mask that lit up and that clearly wouldn’t ever fit no matter what I did. My freshmen never let up in letting me know how much of a nerd I was for wearing the merchandise and hanging the posters and replaying the trailers. I convinced myself that, if I tried hard enough, I could get my thinning hair to faintly resemble T’Challa’s.
I sat next to my father when my family and I watched Black Panther for the first time. Before the lights dimmed, he pointed out that Boseman played Jackie Robinson “good as hell.” My father never saw any other Marvel film, nor was he ever willing to take up the world of comics and graphic novels, but he was adamant that he join us on this. My father reminded me of T’Chaka, both in his youth and as the older diplomat. T’Challa’s relationship with his father — the way Boseman so eloquently communicated the kind of reverence and seeking of approval Black sons the world over communicate, moves me still. I’m glad I saw it with my father.
I’ve never known Chadwick Boseman beyond his roles, but his impact on Black communities across the globe is immeasurable. His outspoken support of Black Lives Matter, the way he embodied the dignity of each character and historical figure he portrayed, and how frequently he smiled, is what gave us light. In sickness, he gave us masterful art, and even ailing he supported the communities he loved so dearly. Boseman represented the very qualities we thought were reserved for comic book heroes, yet he lived them off screen even greater.
In Xhosa, Enkosi means thank you. I’m not sure how else to communicate that thanks but to acknowledge the legacy that Chadwick Boseman leaves behind. We’ve lost someone truly special and we can only hope to be the inheritors of that legacy and that responsibility in his honor.