Youth Outreach staff Lamar Simms takes a group to see the movie, Black Panther.

On February 21st,  I took a dozen of our high school students to see the Black Panther movie.  As we arrived and got settled with our popcorn, the usually lively chatter dissipated to silence as the powerful images started appearing on screen.  They had never seen anything like this before. This was my third time seeing Black Panther and I was just as excited as everyone else in the crowded theater. I found much more joy watching their reactions to the movie than watching it myself.  

I watched the girls fall in and out of love with Erik (Killmonger), played by Michael B. Jordan.  I watched the boys’ confusion over natural hair being the only representation for the women in the movie (something they don’t typically witness in their communities); their definition of beautiful black women was being challenged and I was loving it.  The movie gave a well-rounded insight on their role in the Kingdom, that they too can be recipients of the inheritance of greatness. They saw beautiful queens with wisdom and fearless warriors who never compromised who they were no matter who was sitting on the throne.  They saw a strong and compassionate king that fearlessly stepped into his inheritance and led his country. The images and underlying messages in the film are so multi-faceted.

A highlight of my job is getting to process these kinds of experiences with the teens.  On our way home, I was anxious to hear their feedback. However, the first question threw me off!  It came from a freshman girl asking, “Why did Erik kill his girlfriend?” I used it as an opportunity to discuss how trauma affected his ability to connect with people, even people who loved him.  They became expendable to him. Another teen then asked if Wakanda was a real place. That’s a complex question! Wakanda is not technically a real place. It is a representation of what Africa could have been if it wasn’t colonized.  This led to a deeper discussion of African history than we receive in schools here and how it’s often sanitized or never goes beyond a narrative of slavery or civil rights. The Black Panther movie shows an empowered, capable people that are leaders in the world.  It can further guide a conversation with our teens about their true heritage, their capabilities, and their contributions to the world.

This film empowers me as a mentor to further encourage our youth to greatness.  My hope for my students is to inspire them to be something greater than what is often placed before them. WAKANDA FOREVER!