After Chadwick Boseman‘s untimely death, the world mourned the loss of a star who personified a hero to many. The actor, who died at the age of 43 after a long battle with colon cancer, is known for playing iconic figures. In biopics, he portrayed Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown. But of all the heroes Boseman played, his starring role as King T’Challa in Black Panther and other Marvel films is how fans know him best.
That love for Black Panther inspired one family to create a memorial that instantly went viral. Kian Westbrook a seven-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri was distraught after learning of Boseman’s death. His mother, Leslie asked if she could do anything to help her young son grieve. Kian had an idea.
Kian and Leslie created a Black Panther memorial out of action figures in front of the family’s home.
Leslie took a photo of her Kian’s tribute to his father, King who uploaded it to Twitter with the message “MY BABY BOY AND THE AVENGERS HOLDING A MEMORIAL FOR BLACK PANTHER.” What happened next shocked King and later the entire family. The photo went viral and hundreds of thousands of people responded to it and shared the powerful image.
Lizzy Francis of Fatherly spoke with Kian’s parents about the photo and discussed what Black Panther means to their family and how the experience of publicly mourning Boseman’s loss has been for them.
Kian’s father described his son’s heartbreak after learning of Boseman’s passing:
“Kian was pretty distraught. He was crying, and he basically kept asking why. Why his hero, why someone he had admired so much had passed away so young?
We had spoken with Kian and all of our other children, basically about how death is part of being human and it’s a part of human life. The way that Chadwick Boseman passed away, with cancer, it’s hard for a seven year old to understand that. So his mom had asked him, Well, now that you know, and you’re sad, is there anything you would like to do, or is there anything you can do that will help you feel better?“
“Kian had said he wanted to do a tribute to Black Panther, similar to the one that Iron Man had received in the last Avengers movie, when he had passed away, with all the other heroes there to help see him off,” King explained. “So, that was how it came about.”
“It was all Kian’s idea. With all the Avengers being placed in the back, and Kian was standing back, with them, King continued. “Whenever he plays with his toys, he identifies himself as an Avenger. That was how he ended up standing in the back and crossing his arms with the ‘Wakanda forever’ symbol. That’s how it ended up coming about. “
King said Kian’s mother helped her son arrange the memorial:
“His mom had helped him grab the materials he needed for it, and she placed the Black Panther action figure on top of a box. In front of the box, there’s an Iron Man glove that’s on the ground, which symbolized Kian saying goodbye to Iron Man, as well. For all intents and purposes, he knew exactly what he wanted to do to honor Chadwick Boseman and Black Panther.”
“Your imagination runs wild when you’re a child,” Leslie said of her son’s creative tribute.
The internet clearly loved Kian’s creative memorial, which was unexpected. King said that he had never posted anything to his Twitter. The tweet was essentially his first one and then a few hours after posting it, his phone started to blow up with notifications. “Leslie gave me a call and said that somebody called her and said that the post I had put on there went viral, and was being featured on different news outlets,” King explained. “And so I went on and took a look at it and I was like, oh my god. The excitement of it, it wasn’t so much, Hey, we’re famous.”
‘The thing that hit us was that Kian did this as a tribute to a person he considered his hero.’
“The thing that hit us was that Kian did this as a tribute to a person he considered his hero,” King revealed. “And then, when it got posted, it allowed other people to join my son in honoring Chadwick Boseman, and Black Panther, and mourning with him. That’s what the surprise was.”
Leslie agreed with her husband and said, “That is the humbling experience for us. We’re grateful for it. We’ve talked to countless networks and media sources at this point, but the great part of it is the comments. The comments of encouragement, of other people, mourning, and Kian knows that… I mean, he has us. But he knows he’s really not alone in this.”
“When you have a child that is saying that they want to honor their hero, as a parent, to see other people that are saying that Chadwick Boseman was not only their hero but they appreciate what my son did to honor him, that was just — Kian has received such a beautiful outcry of messages for something that he did that was genuine,” King added.
Kian was asked directly what Wakanda and the world of Black Panther meant to him. The seven-year-old replied, “It means family and friends.”
“I feel like Kian was able to really identify well [with the world],” Leslie said of her son. “We come from a strong family. For him to see that, first hand, on the big screen, was huge. To see a predominantly African American cast, and to see like, even for our daughter, to see a woman general with an all-woman army? Come on.”
“It was really just empowering altogether,” Leslie elaborated. “And it’s just a great example to show our children and you know, we love that so much.”
Kian added, “And Black Panther also means that we can be big strong heroes.”
Members of the family go on to further discuss the importance of representation and having heroes to look up to. King said, “Kian really knew Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, but to know, as an adult, all of the other historical, strong, Black figures he had portrayed in movies — when my son calls him a hero, that’s a great thing. We believe Chadwick Boseman was a great human being.”
Leslie agreed with King on Boseman’s body of work and added, “Following him altogether as an actor, he picked the roles that he picked to play for himself on purpose. Like, there are so many roles he passed up on because he didn’t want to be a stereotype or a demographic.”
“And he means that he looks like me, too,” Kian explained.
We’re so glad that this family shared the story behind the viral photo, but more importantly that they opened up about how the roles Boseman chose highlighted the strides Black Americans have made. In portraying Thurgood Marshall, Boseman shared the story of a man who would become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. In his role as James Brown, the actor showed the world a musician’s incredible rise to fame who changed music forever. In his turn as Jackie Robinson, Boseman told the story of a talented baseball player who excelled in his sport despite having to confront racism at every turn.
These stories are so powerful. It’s why we all love and adore Chadwick Boseman. It’s easy to understand why the actor would be a hero to Kian. We’re so glad this family shared their tribute with the world and helped others come to terms with the shattering loss.