Chadwick Boseman’s death gives me the courage to keep going. Here’s what he meant to me

“Wakanda Forever”: A beloved cross-armed salute that signifies so much more following the death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman on Friday at age 43.

I will never forget bursting with pride when I saw “Black Panther” in theaters (twice) in February 2018 during Black History Month. I accompanied several children eager to see someone with the same skin color as them grace the big screen, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just as giddy. I understood what this moment meant for myself and so many people.

In the plush theater seats, I was surrounded by so much rich culture: Moviegoers wore traditional African headdresses and garments to celebrate our ancestry and the audience collectively burst into applause when Boseman’s King T’Challa reigned victorious.

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In that moment, we all felt victorious because it was so much more than a movie.

Boseman was a hero in the Black community. Our hero. No longer cast as a sidekick, Boseman’s Black Panther proudly symbolized so much progress. I can say that so many people felt celebrated for everything Black culture is in a world that frequently reminds us of what we aren’t.

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It wasn’t until Boseman’s death that I learned he was a superhero off-screen as well. Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, his family said in a statement Friday, meaning the star was secretly battling the insidious disease while filming a movie that would galvanize us all.

He showed up between surgeries and chemotherapy. The courage. The strength. The selflessness. The resilience. He fearlessly and silently fought for his life while inspiring a generation of boys and girls by pushing boundaries and ushering in a new era of representation.

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I saw it in the eyes of the children who were mesmerized by the screen. They could be anything they wanted. They could dream the wildest of dreams and see themselves as royalty.

“Black Panther” wasn’t just another stereotype. Boseman’s character was the king of the fictional country of Wakanda, a nation rich in history, tradition, technology and vibranium – a far cry from the bleak and desolate images of Africa that are often portrayed in films.

Boseman not only brought King T’Challa to life on the silver screen, but also Black icons Jackie Robinson (2013’s “42”), James Brown (2014’s “Get on Up”) and Thurgood Marshall (2017’s “Marshall”).

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He was a prime example of Black excellence. As the Black community continues to fight for equality against racism and injustices, this feels like another blow. Further insult to injury. His death hurts, more so after the recent death of another Black icon, Kobe Bryant.

The pain that myself and the Black community feels is unrelenting and at times unbearable. But the way Boseman selflessly faced his battles should give us the courage to keep going. If he can do it, we must try.

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers,” Boseman’s T’Challa said to the U.N. Assembly during the post-credit scene of “Black Panther.”

I truly see the sacrifice you made and your legacy will forever live on in the generation you inspired. Rest in power, King.

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