About a month ago, I went to a wake for Wayne Price. You may have never heard of him, but if you attended Bloomfield High School at any point in the 2000’s, then you know who I’m talking about. Wayne was the coolest guy in school; so cool, in fact, that I never talked to him because I was intimidated. His death came as a complete shock to me. He was only 37 years old, and his death was sudden. My reaction to his death also shocked me, because I was deeply hurt. Why? I’d never talked to him.
But my brother did. And the stories he told me made me feel like I was there. What each story had in common was laughter and happiness. That was what Wayne brought into the lives of all the people around him. So I was shocked when he died. Hundreds of other people turned out for his wake. He was a pillar of our community, gone in an instant.
A few months before that, I was speaking to a friend of mine. Her father had just died. I knew how important her father was to her, because she’d told me constantly. He was her strongest support, and the person she loved the most in the world. Many people get to enjoy their parent’s support for most of their lives. But not her. She’s not even 30 and her pillar is gone.
This is what it looks like. When George Floyd or Breonna Taylor have their lives snuffed out, there is at least the possibility of accountability, however unlikely. The plague of Black death visits us so frequently, in so many ways. Racism and oppression kill us in quiet ways that don’t cause massive peaceful protests or elicit empty promises from the political class. How do you rally people to march about a missed diagnosis, poisoned water, lead-based paint or cancer clusters which seal the fate of Black people when we’re still children?
There are more people like Wayne Price. There’s Brittney Daniels. Sean Walford. Johnnie Jones. Kristina Nelson. Taneil Mac. Dwayne Knowlin. Dyshawn Copeland. Hakeem Lumpkin. Raland Johnson. Do you know any of their names? These are friends, classmates, and neighbors of mine. These are brothers and sisters, parents and children. These are young Black people who are dead. All before 40. Cut down by chronic illness. Accidents. Violence. Pillars of their communities, gone.
But someone you do know died from this same plague. He was Black Panther. He was a shining light that represented hope and power for more than just Black people, but especially for us. He was, to use the phrase again, a pillar of our community. His name was Chadwick Boseman.
Gone. At 43. From a treatable, chronic illness that affects African Americans at a higher rate. This is what it looks like. It’s not always a hail of bullets or a knee to the neck. In fact, it often isn’t. It’s racism chipping away at us, wearing us down over a lifetime that is often far shorter than for other people. Because doctors don’t believe our pain, even when we see them. Because we’re misdiagnosed and undertreated. Yes, Boseman had access. He had access to a racist system which has documented failures when treating Black people.
Boseman had wealth, fame and access. But like my friends, he didn’t always have it. He’d been subjected to the same meat-grinding conditions of racism as Wayne and the others for his entire life. This is what it looks like. A galaxy of Marvel stars, and the Black star is snuffed out too soon.
The marches cannot stop. Right now, we’re asking for the police to stop killing us. Next, we’re asking for everything else to stop killing us too.
Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.
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