We start to think that as we go into a brand new year, it’s supposed to be exhilarating and exciting. Considering that we’ve entered a whole new decade, it was supposed to be filled with new experiences and memories to make with people that you love.
However, that was not the case.
From the loss of innocent blacks citizens like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd to black celebrities that we grew up watching or listening to, the black community experienced loss nearly every month. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the celebrity losses from 2020.
To start off, the first-ever tragic death of this year was 41-year-old retired NBA basketball star, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna due to a plane crash. On January 26, Kobe and his daughter Gianna took a private plane as they were on their way to Gianna’s basketball tournament at Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. Kobe and Gianna were accompanied by Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser; and pilot Ara Zobayan. A thick fog was encountered in San Francisco Valley of Los Angeles. Pilot, Zobayan, did his very best to break through the fog before the plane turned abruptly before crashing in the Calabasas Hills. The death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the many others that accompanied them, struck the world into thinking that Kobe was getting ready to enjoy his retirement life after being a successful basketball player. His daughter Gianna, in hopes of following her father’s footsteps into being in the WNBA, was short-lived. Kobe and his daughter are survived by his wife and mother, Vanessa Bryant, and three daughters and sisters, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri Bryant. Hearing the death of Kobe, his daughter, and everyone else that was accompanied made me hug my family a little tighter and tell everyone in my life how special they are to me because of how short your life can be in a matter of seconds.
A few weeks later within the month of February, actress, Ja’Net DuBois, famously known for her role as Wilona Woods on the American sitcom Good Times (1974 – 1980) passed away on February 17th due to cardiac arrest in Glendale, California. Ja’Net left a legacy of winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 1991 and 2001 for the animated series, PJs. She also received TV Land Impact Award in 2006 for the iconic sitcom, Good Times. Exactly two days later, 20-year-old Brooklyn rapper, Pop Smoke, whose legal name is Bashar Barakah Jackson, was killed due to a home invasion where he was shot in the home he was renting in Hollywood. Pop Smoke just a few days before his death, released his second album, Meet the Woo 2 on February 7th. On July 3rd, his third album and last album, Shoot For the Stars Aim For The Moon features 19 unreleased songs and 34 on the deluxe, with features from artists like Quavo, Lil Baby, Gunna, Young Thug, etc. American mathematician, Katherine Johnson died on February 24th at the age of 101. She’s well known for doing calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA in which that success led her to help John Glenn be sent to orbit the Earth three times in 1962 which was crucial and important at the time of USA competing against Russia into seeing who would go to the Earth first. She also was able to calculate the numbers in 1969 when she was able to lead Apollo 11 to the moon.
Approaching the end of March, reggae vocalist, Keith Anderson, better known as Bob Andy, passed away on March 27th due to cancer at the age of 75. He began his career as one half of Bob and Marcia musical duo. Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths had hits like “Young Gifted and Black”, which peaked in the 1970s, and “Piped Piper” which soared to #11 in the UK Singles Chart the following year. He then was part of the vocal group the Paragons, with their most famous song being “The Tide is High. Members of the Paragons were originally Garth “Tyrone” Evans, Bob Andy, Junior Menz, and Leroy Stamp. However in 1964, Leroy Stamp was then replaced by singer and songwriter John Holt, and Junior Menz was replaced by Howard Barrett.
If you’re a fan of the NFL, then you would know that former NFL quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, and Seattle Seahawks, Tarvarius D’Andre Jackson passed away on April 12, 2020 due to a car crash in Alabama at the age of 36. Jackson survived with his wife, Lakitta Jackson, and his three children Tarvarius Jackson ll, Takyla Jackson, and Tyson Jackson. On May 9th, singer and songwriter, Richard Wayne Penniman, formally known as Little Richard, passed away due to bone cancer at the age of 87. Little Richard has written and sang many Rock n’ Roll hits, two of them being Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally (The Thing). With his success in the music industry, Little Richard has won and received many awards. In 1986, he was inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1993 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and three years later he has received the American Music Award of Merit.
Within the month of July, there were two tremendous losses that impacted us greatly during the trying times of the civil rights movement.
One of the remarkable individuals was United States Representative, John Lewis. He passed away on July 17th at the age of 80 due to pancreatic cancer. He was beneficial for the civil rights movement as he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. He was one of 13 original Freedom Riders, which led him to be assaulted and arrested at the age of 21. From being part of the Civil Rights Movement, he then served as a United States Representative for Georgia as its 5th congressional district from the start of 1967 until his death in July 17, 2020.
Another important and impactful person that passed the same day as John Lewis, was Reverend C.T. Vivian. Just like John Lewis, C.T. also worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement as well by marching with Martin to Selma. C.T. became very crucial when it came to preaching about how important it is to be nonviolent during the movement. His lifelong achievements led him to President Barack Obama honoring him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 20th in 2013. He was awarded along with 15 others for their extraordinary contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors that impacted people all across the world.
Another death that shook the black community was actor Chadwick Boseman. He lost his battle to colon cancer on August 28th at 43 years old. His diagnosis was well hidden to the media and the press, as he was able to take on so many different roles for many different movies. From playing Thurgood Marshall on the film, Marshall to James Brown on Get on Up, while also playing T’Challa/Black Panther; it made a huge break in the box office of 1.344 billion as of May 2018 for the film Black Panther. What possibly surprised the world the most was that during Boseman’s lifetime of partaking in all these films was how he was able to do that while keeping his diagnosis of colon cancer under wraps; his family were the only ones who were able to confirm Boseman’s passing via Instagram Chadwick’s last movie is to soon be released on the Netflix called Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom starring actors and actresses such as Viola Davis.
I’ll never forget watching Marshall and being in complete awe of his craft and with all the other movies he was involved in. To tell you the truth, having to hear his passing made me cry and broke my heart for so many reasons: with his diagnosis of colon cancer, he was still able to do all these amazing movies and become successful with every single one being made on the big screen, he had to hide his diagnosis from the media because of the harsh comments he received because of how skinny he looked while filming a Jackie Robinson film of 42. What people didn’t realize was that he was fighting for his life of colon cancer, while also trying to make this film possible for everyone to enjoy. His passing made me also realize to work hard until you can’t anymore.
A few months later, actress Natalie Desselle-Reid and actor Tommy “Tiny” passed away. Tylet Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family and BAPS star passed away due to colon cancer at the age of 53 on December 7th. Her family released a statement on her Instagram that day stating, “It is with extremely heavy hearts that we share the loss of our beautiful Natalie this morning from colon cancer. She was a bright light in this world. A queen. An extraordinary mother and wife. Her diverse career touched so many and she will be loved forever. Naturally, we are grieving and processing this profound loss and we thank you in advance for respecting our privacy at this extremely difficult time.” Following the death of Natalie, was Tommy “Tiny” Lister. The former professional wrestler and “Friday” actor passed away from COVID-19 complication.
With this year being a tough loss for the black community, it has been a testament to appreciate the lives we have before they’re gone. We will continue to allow their legacies to live on. Until then, rest in power to these beautiful souls.