Angela Bassett, cast member of the new film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” recalled when she first met Chadwick Boseman when he was a student attending Howard University. Bassett shared the beauty of the late actor’s character and work ethic, sentiments that many friends and former co-stars of Boseman have shared, now two years since his death.
Boseman was Bassett’s escort when she received her honorary degree at Howard University’s 2000 Commencement. “These are moments that you wish for early and sometimes never get to experience,” she said during a red carpet premiere at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “I did not remember him because, at graduation, there were thousands of students and parents. Still, he reminded me after we finished making the first Black Panther, which said something beautiful about his character. He got to work, and then when work was done, we could remember.”
Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actor and director Boseman starred in numerous films that have impacted the Black community. Whether it was baseball legend Jackie Robinson in the critically acclaimed “42,” or the iconic Marvel character King T’Challa in “Black Panther,” Boseman built a reputation for playing larger-than-life characters. Boseman died of cancer in August 2020. Since then, his family and friends have been keeping his name alive by talking about his character.
Known as Chad to his friends and family, Boseman’s friends described him as “a man of character, discipline and love.” In a telephone interview, Kamilah Forbes, the executive producer of the Apollo Theater and a College of Fine Arts graduate, stated that Boseman’s character was “one of a kind.”
“Chad was a man of integrity. He was a man of his word, he believed to the core of every single one of his beliefs,” Forbes said. “Whether that was observing the arts or other things, he believed deeply and observed the world intently. He gave himself fully to his peers.”
According to his brother, Derrick Boseman, the actor started in the arts during high school, when he was inspired to write a play after two tragic incidents. These incidents created the director and artist the world knows today.
“He wrote and directed a play about a friend that was murdered while he was in high school—that and the fact that a prejudiced basketball coach dwarfed his hoop dreams,” Derrick Boseman said in a phone call interview with The Hilltop. “I can’t use one word to describe him. He was gifted, spiritual, relentless, driven and focused.”
Boseman graduated from the College of Fine Arts in 2000. He was known for being one of the prominent leaders in the 1997 College of Fine Arts protest. Former Howard University President Patrick Swygert and the Board of Trustees planned to combine the College of Fine Arts and the College of Arts and Sciences later that semester. From then, the College of Fine Arts students decided to protest, with Boseman at the forefront.
Boseman and his peers were willing to stand for the College of Fine Arts to have an independent identity that projected its students toward the world of artistry, music and screening. They believed in the inheritance to stand alone in attendance in a fine arts degree program that was not compromised or watered down by other academic disciplines.
At the forefront with him were his three friends: Greg Alverez Reid, Nyakya Brown and Kamilah Forbes. They were all fine arts graduates who valued and believed that the College of Fine Arts deserved to be its own school.
At the time, Howard was the only HBCU that offered a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The program was competitive, but helped build friendships and careers. Eventually, the program no longer stood on its own.
Now, 23 years later, the building stands as the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, named after the late actor in 2021. After all these years, Boseman fulfilled his promise to restore the college.
Brown, mayor of South Floral Park, New York and friend of Boseman, believed this to be a full-circle moment.
“It was very clear at the time why the protest was needed, now we see full circle. Oftentimes, those who may not know fine arts may not truly understand what is going on in the building, but later understand the legacy that comes out of the fine arts building,” Brown said. “He was committed then, he was committed through the years and he was committed to it being restored up until the end.”
Boseman’s friends rejoiced seeing his name on the fine arts building. Actor, artist and Boseman’s best friend, Greg Alverez Reid, was filled with a sense of pride when he saw the fine arts building for the first time.
“I came right after the building was first renamed. I had some time to sit with it and it just feels right,” Reid said. “I am just proud that our brother’s name sits on the building and that justice was served.”
Boseman’s bond with his old friends was never left behind. His respect and love for Howard was never lost regardless of fame, and his connection with his family and loved ones remained constant.
NSangou Njikam is a friend and old roommate of Boseman who got to experience Boseman’s thought process as an individual and said Chadwick let spirituality influence his decisions.
“I saw how he navigated his life based on spiritual standings. He was well-versed in many religions,” Nijikam said. “He led from a spiritual understanding first. This is somebody who was faced with fame, did not look at fame but looked at what he was on earth to do, and that is what he led with all the time.”
The authenticity that people saw on screen was shown through his everyday life. He lived, breathed and preached the arts. He wanted his legacy to be delivered to the next generation of students by passing the torch of wisdom.
“He was always about passing the torch and legacy,” Reid said. “He received an award at Howard, gave it to other students and said, ‘Hey, this is for you. I want you to feel good about yourself.’ Helping other people was always a part of him.”
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” releases in theaters on Friday, Nov. 11. Although Boseman will not star in the film, his family and friends are more than certain that his legacy and character will live on the big screen forever.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee
[Correction: This article previously misspelled Nyakya Brown as “Nyakyah” Brown. This article has since been updated to accurately spell Brown’s first name.]