Every day on someone’s timeline, there seems to be another RIP dedicated to a famous person, a close loved one, or both. Each digital teardrop of hurt, surprise, and grief, on top of the year that’s given us COVID-19-isolation, has amplified our emotions to levels we could never have anticipated. Every loss adds to the global dislike of 2020 and leaves a lasting impact on our lives.
The close of 2019 ushered in a universal optimism for the new year that was tragically cut short when news broke in January that former NBA player Kobe Bryant, his daughter Giana (Gigi), and others had died tragically in a helicopter crash. Only a few years into his retirement, Kobe’s future-Hall-of-Fame, post-career life looked promising. He and wife Vanessa had welcomed a new child to their family; he’d won an Oscar for the animated film Dear Basketball; and he’d began coaching his daughter GiGi whose passion for the game mirrored her father’s.
The death of Kobe and GiGi was a heartbreak shared by many, and especially among parents, as the greatest, most unimaginable fears—losing a partner and child—unfolded before our eyes. Ever since the age of 18 when he decided to skip college for the pros and take Brandy to prom, mainstream fans had grown attached to Bryant. Over the years, he’d evolved from an overconfident, often-criticized, Michael Jordan-wannabe, to a champion, well-respected amongst peers who all admired his relentless drive to win. So, yes, 2020 was off to a terrible start, but no one expected the deluge of events that would follow.
Enter: a pandemic. The nationwide shutdown due to COVID-19 may have brought feelings of anxiety to the world, but Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd’s killings sparked outrage and a global protest against injustice for murdered unarmed Black people. The rallies and outcries were considered good trouble by civil rights leader/ Georgia rep John Lewis whom we also lost in 2020. Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers, raised awareness of the constant disregard Black women face in life and death. Her name and face have become a symbol and a reminder, along with Floyd and Arbery, that every Black life is precious despite the flawed American justice system saying otherwise.
The year 2020 gave us even more to mourn with the deaths of influential Black legends. B.Smith (August 24, 1949 – February 22, 2020), a businesswoman, restauranteur, author, and TV personality, inspired a generation of young Black entrepreneurs. Andre Harrell (September 26, 1960 – May 7, 2020), the founder of Uptown Records, established a blueprint and created the DNA that continues to generate Hip Hop culture in fashion, music, and style. Dedicated fans of Hip Hop group The Roots will always remember the clever bars of Malik B (November 14, 1972 – July 29, 2020). At the same time, Black twitter will never forget the journey of Jas “Fly” Waters (October 21, 1980 – June 9, 2020) as a blogger-turn-TV/Movie screenwriter and mental health awareness advocate. Chadwick Boseman (November 29, 1977 – August 28, 2020) will be remembered as not just an “actor” but a cultural entity who with each performance made the world pause and take notice and forever inspired a generation.
In the end, it’s not about the impact of one’s death but the influence of their life. A person’s character is judged by their contributions, no matter the size of the stage. Among those we’ve lost, for some, their existence gave us meaning; for others, their death infused us with purpose. In either case, their names, memories, and what they lived for, will be worn as armor by their loved ones, and their legacies will live on through our actions.