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After a long day of online tutoring, I took a brain break and began skimming my Twitter feed mindlessly. Tweet after tweet flooded the screen posts announcing the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman, the amazing actor who brought to life Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and my favorite - T’Challa -The Black Panther. I sat there stunned for once again news of another icon is just - gone. Back in January, when we lost Kobe Bryant, I could not believe it. I had just made it halfway through The Wizardnard Series, his first step into writing about the wizarding fiction world with Wes King as they wove a tale of magic and basketball, two unlikely elements. I had read this book aloud to my students during our remote teaching sessions last Spring. During our poetry unit, I always used his farewell address poem, Dear Basketball as a way to motivate my reluctant athletes that if Kobe could write beautifully, they could at least try.
I felt as if I’d lost a friend, even though I’d never met him. We did, however, have a small connection though. Professor Rolobi, in the Wizardnard Series, is a combination of Phil Jackson and Tex Winter, who he dedicated the series to. Tex was my husband’s great uncle and our only claim to greatness. I met him once at a Winter family reunion back when he coached for Chicago. He sauntered in proudly displaying all 4 rings won, so far, on his right hand. So - I guess it’s six degrees of separation scenario so in my mind, we had this small connection through Tex, our larger than life Great Uncle.
Yet - 2020 is continuing to take us to the mats and pummel us senseless with yet another senseless death. Why do we care? Why do I care? I did not have a connection with Chadwick, nor do I know anyone who knew him as we had with Tex. Yet, I loved him in The Black Panther and smiled as my black students gushed over their retelling of the movie to me in class encouraging me to see it. They had another hero to look up to in Chadwick. Just as they did with Kobe and every time they tossed trash into my trash can, it was in the style of a buzzer-beater followed by the words “Kobe!”
So why do we grieve someone we’ve never met? One reason I’ve read as to why we experience grief is it connects us to a moment in time that actor, musician, or artist brought us joy or some other connection. When I first saw The Black Panther, I left the theatre inspired. I felt a sense of awe and majesty when T’Challa and his army appeared at the end of End Game so much so that I joined in the other moviegoers cheering and applauding the moment. I agree with recent tweets stating it was one of the coolest, cinematic experiences in the MCU.
Then this evening, the world lost another icon in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. As we all sit in the stunning realization of this new loss, I also a state of worry as to what happens next. However, now is not the time to think about such things. Now is the time to grieve the loss of another force of nature.RBG was a champion and had cancer on the ropes-all we can do is ask why.
According to the article"Three Reasons, We Mourn Celebrity Deaths" published by Psychology Today, the loss of a celebrity temporarily joins us to a greater community as we collectively mourn the loss. We are in a community with the world over one person we all admired. For some of us, another death just reminds us of how bloody fleeting life is. The loss temporarily opens up our pain from our own losses, especially if the death is for a similar reason. Yet - with Chadwick’s death, it can also be a signpost to learn more about this awful disease that robbed us all. It’s a reminder, or realization, that colon cancer does not care how old you are. We are often told to begin our colonoscopy screenings once we turn 50. This young man was much younger than this.
So as a collective, we grieve, mourn, weep, and yes, sometimes scream into our phones as we read the news about yet another beloved celebrity has perished. We pray for a miracle to help us escape the hell 2020 has brought upon us all. Perhaps, this is why we all feel these losses so deeply? We’ve lost so much in terms of our normal way of life. This is like adding insult to injury.
How do we move past this? Well, perhaps take a break from the news cycle for a while because you know you will be bombarded with story after story. Personally, I watched Marshall, followed by Black Panther, Infinity War, and End Game this weekend. This weekend, I’ll watch the movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Then, I will pray for their friends and family because the loss of a loved one is our connection - like it or not. I will tell my friends and family I love them and remind them to use their gifts and talents to make a difference in their world for the good. More importantly - think about how to reflect these wonderful people in your life. To me, Kobe was a mentor which is why he started the basketball club for his daughter. Chadwick gave of himself to others even in the midst of his own battles. Ruth fought to make our voices heard. I plan to emulate these qualities because they are important to continue them. I encourage you to do the same.