June 6, 2021— As a Champion for the Arts and an alumna of Howard University School of Law, I was thrilled to recently learn that the university is re-establishing its College of Fine Arts and is naming it after one of its most famous alumni, the late Chadwick A. Boseman, star of the blockbuster film Black Panther.
During his sophomore year at the university, Mr. Boseman helped to organize protests against the university’s cost-cutting decision to fold the College of Fine Arts into the College of Arts & Sciences, Even after graduation, Mr. Boseman and other alumni continued to advocate for the university’s fine arts college, calling it comparable to other renowned arts programs, such as Juilliard, NYU and Carroll Arts.
Now, more than 20 years after Mr. Boseman led that sit-in, the university is not only re-opening the College of Fine Arts this coming fall, Howard alumna and multi-award winning actor and director Phylicia Rashad, has been named as its Dean. In addition, the university has tapped Robert Iger, Executive Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, to lead a fundraising effort to build a state-of-the-art facility. The Walt Disney Company distributed the Black Panther film.
I also am excited that the university is moving forward on Mr. Boseman’s proposal to establish a Masterclass within the College of Fine Arts. The program will be an ongoing part of the curriculum to help students understand all aspects of pursuing careers in the fine arts through mentorship programs and access to industry professionals.
I have always been a strong advocate of mentorship. I believe it is the key to ensuring that our industry not only continues to survive, but also thrives! It is a fitting tribute that Ms. Rashad, who taught and mentored Mr. Boseman at Howard, will be responsible for nurturing and supporting future generations of artists; modernizing the school’s curriculum; expanding enrollment, and participating in the designing of the new building.
These are exciting developments on so many levels. This Historically Black College and University (HBCU) already has an extraordinary history of training many well-known and successful artists and national leaders. In addition to Mr. Boseman and Ms. Rashad, Howard alumni include Debbie Allen, Taraji P. Henson, Isaiah Washington, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Vice President Kamala Harris.
It’s also important to note the efforts of Howard alumna Maya Shed. Shortly after news broke of Mr. Boseman’s death in August of 2020, Ms. Shed created a petition on Change.org calling on the university to re-establish the College of Fine Arts and name it in Mr. Boseman’s honor. The petition reached 30,000 signatures in less than a week and, at the time of the university’s announcement, had close to 60,000 signatures.
Ms. Rashad said of Mr. Boseman: “Unrelenting in his pursuit of excellence, Chadwick was possessed with a passion for inquiry and a determination to tell stories—through acting, writing, and directing—that revealed the beauty and complexity of our human spirit.”
The prime point conveyed to us when I attended Howard University School of Law was that our mission was to disrupt injustice and change society. From the first day, we were taught that our responsibility was to always be in the room wherever decisions were being made. This theme continues to be symbolized in the school’s commitment to prepare its students to “learn, lead and embody excellence in truth and service,” as exemplified by both Mr. Boseman’s work ethic and his ongoing efforts to resurrect the College of Fine Arts.
It is my hope that the Chadwick A Boseman College of Fine Arts will ensure that his legacy of purpose, unrelenting excellence and passion endures forever. Wakanda Forever!
In closing, in honor of the graduating Class of 2021, I want to share an excerpt from the Howard University Commencement Address that Mr. Boseman gave in 2018:
“Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
Mr. Boseman’s words remain relevant and timeless. I look forward to your sharing your thoughts about Howard University’s plans or Mr. Boseman’s graduation message. Please post in the comments section below. And if you would like to support Howard’s endeavor to build a new facility, check out this link.