Black Panther on Two Continents

I am fortunate. I am fortunate to be in South Africa at the moment and that Black Panther was released only nine days ago before I left the U.S.

I saw it in Michigan on Thursday, February 15 and I saw again in Port Elizabeth SA ten days later; I saw it today. Both viewings were sold out and there were some great similarities between each viewing – the laughter, the appreciation for “colonizer” jokes, and the excitement for whenever the Dora Milaje hopped on screen to fight!

In the US, I celebrated, watched through the eyes of a hopeful African-American, sitting alongside many Black people who enjoyed it just as I did. It was a community event! As the film paced on perfectly, I thought of my journey to South Africa. Would I have the same joy similar to that of T’Challa when he proclaimed “This never gets old.” as he passed through the cloaking shield? Would I be welcomed? Would I smile as he smiled and would others smile back at me like Shuri, Okoye, his mother Ramonda as he walked off the Vibranium Bugatti Spaceship? I walked out smiling ear to ear, proud of what I just witness and joyful for what was to come for me, so sure of what this journey would mean to me.

Like with many aspects of life, things are not as simple as they might seem and my journey has been much more complex. There have been joyful moments and celebrations while here, but there have also been moments of pain and heartbreak.


In Port Elizabeth, I waited in a long line, decided to buy the ticket on my phone while waiting, and luckily, I purchased the last ticket. As soon as I received the confirmation email, the manager walked over to the cashiers and put up a “sold-out sign” over the Black Panther poster. I found my seat as the opening played. I was more excited to see it here than in the states for a variety of reasons, the most important being that this film seemed to mirror part of my story – born in the United States and traveling to Africa for the first time in my life.

As I sat there, I watched as an American, no more African than before. No less an outsider looking in, looking for a sense of belonging. Here, I watched through the eyes of Killmonger, with pain in my heart and frustration in my bones. Aching to know why Black People, and many people of color, suffer so much more than the rest of the world. Aching to find a solution, a way to deal with the rage and pain all the same.

As I watched Black Panther the second time, memories flashed through my eyes. “There’s about two billion people out there that could use your help.” (Semi-direct quote). Here in Port Elizabeth, I had the opportunity to visit a nearby “unofficial” settlement, Missionvale, a township community with more than 130,000 people unemployed, living in small homes, and experiencing a much harder life than I will ever know. All the while, “tourists (myself included)” ride through in a Mercedes Benz chartered bus and walk through a small community center taking photos of and selfies with “poor black children.” Infuriated by this, I lingered toward the back of the group silently. I was fortunate to steal a smile from a group of young children in green and orange school uniforms, who played with unending joy despite their circumstances. Three students double dutched, a small group of boys played their version of rugby, and I listened to two young girls read to each other on a bench, trading a printed book back and forth with short sentences on it. “Mom likes our house.” “Dad likes our house.”

I took no photos. I had not earned the right to plunder their community for my own gain. I wished not to steal anything more than the memories that were made by being present.

In that moment I saw my own community, which revealed to me a much deeper pain than I ever thought possible. One of the fellow conference goers, pulled me back and whispered, “Is this the liberation of South Africa?” It broke my heart. All I could think about was how little I’ve done to serve my own home, Detroit. “Is this the liberation of Detroit?” What can be done? What can I do? What can I give? How can I support what is already happening for the good of local people? How can we ensure that the people who suffer most still see themselves as valuable, as significant, as worthy of the beautiful humanity they already possess, when life has told them they are none of those things and less than human. How can I hold a mirror so they see themselves as whole people, as capable, as having something to offer, as having hope. In the small children, I saw hope, the innocence of having not be broken by the world. In the adults, I saw Kilmonger, hurting, angry, uncertain of how to change things for themselves, but willing to try anything.


My Old Friend

Welcome to Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape, and the Indian Ocean.

I am welcomed by my oldest friend, the sea. When I arrived in Port Elizabeth, I found myself deciding between getting food and getting to the ocean. I chose the latter – though I felt compelled to find it. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the ocean, but something was different about this draw. I felt that I’d find something there that I hadn’t before. Drawn by the subtle, distant sound of crashing waves and the smell of salty air, I knew I was close… how close, I had no idea. I walked over hills, down sand dunes, and through a plank wood pathway and made it to the beach.


Between me and the water stood a wall of plant life, a line of sand, and a rocky beach. How different and familiar this all felt. How lucky was I to skip lunch and spend the afternoon alone on the beach? There was not a person around for the few miles that the beach ran. My old friend welcomed me home like I had only been away for a little while. Solitude has always been a great friend, he’s allowed me to reflect, give me peace learn deeply, look at myself in an honest way. In a similar way, the ocean has given me the same – moments of pause, quiet time to learn and heal, a mysterious and vast place to match my imagination and hope for this world… a place to be an idealist… a place to restore my heart from a broken world. To me, this was my care. This was me taking care of me.

Self-Care, both mental and physical health is very much in the public eye in many places at the moment. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to take these moments of pause or even to leave the town or city in which they live, but we must do more to give each other peace where we are… to give each other moments of pause and the freedom to take care of ourselves. For so long, I asked myself “when will I find peace?” Today, I’ve chosen to ask myself a different question, “where can I create peace?” It’s only been a few days, but this respite from “real life” has given me a great deal of insight about who I am and who I want to become, but more importantly, it’s placed others at the forefront of my mind. Where can I create peace? How can I give others moments of rest? How can I offer joy to others or celebrated with them the joy the already possess? Though I may find answers, I am now more interested in the questions that will come from this experience. “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

How Interesting?

“How interesting?” is the question that came to mind after allowing my hopeful anticipation build over the last few weeks and finally arriving here in South Africa.

I idealized my arrival, each time coming closer and closer to tears because this journey is a “homecoming” of sorts. In my last post, I referenced my ability to connect far back in my family history, but still a gap existed between my great-great grandmother and whatever tribe and country our ancestors were birthed into. Leading up to this moment, there was a distinct “maybe this will be the moment when all the emptiness washes away.”

It wasn’t (lol @ myself), but I did have a few more interesting realizations as a result of being here, arriving here, and simply asking questions and observing.

Number 1: This was less of a realization but more of a “well of course” moment. There’s a stark poverty gap, a great distance between those who are served and those who serve, between those who have and those who have not. Much of this has to do with Apartheid colonization, and corruption. My hope gave me rose tented eyes from which to see through before arriving. This caused the separation between social groups to feel more pronounced. It was as if I had arrived back in Downtown Detroit, bustling with surbranites who can, and most often do, come and go as they please to be served by persons of color, who most often can’t afford (time or money) to participate whatever the activity is. There’s a more nuanced conversation to be had about this specific topic so don’t get lost in the details yet. We’ll save it for another post. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad for the people who need some closer on this point.

Number 2: My Uber driver, “Evans” gave me some real insight into the local culture and insight into his live. Evans is from Zimbabwe and he talked about how even though the economy dipped and has struggled due to a lack of eco-tourism, it was still a safe place, a place that he loved and would go back to given the chance to have economic stability again. He talked about his family in a way that I would talk about mine. We shared a laugh over how similar our families and communities are. We talked about joy despite difficulty. We talked about resilience and shared happiness and pride. Our conversation reduced my need to connect with a specific place. I’d rather connect with the people.

Number 3: This one is more of a few happy accidents that occurred along the way. 1. My Airbnb host have two dogs, that are super friendly. There’s a small garden attached to their home and I spent a little while reading out there today just to enjoy the warm summer and cool breeze. 2. I’m having dinner in Johannesburg with a family that I met on the plane before I head back to the US. They are visiting South Africa to celebrate their Mother/Grandmother’s birthday.

Number 4 (Maybe the most important): I’ve given up my idealized view that solely arriving at a place can restore your wholeness. I’ve gained the pride of seeing myself as someone who is celebrated and welcomed and appreciated for his blackness on a large scale. The level of joy I saw of sooo many black and brown faces only made me smile harder and harder throughout the day. Children playing soccer, teenagers dancing in the street and laughing with each other, grandmothers and matriarchs bursting with pride at the sight of their families all together at dinner. Today reminded me of our shared humanity, the humanity we are so often not afforded by others. No one can steal that from me.