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Fans turn out for vigil in Leimert Park for actor Chadwick Boseman

Fans of Chadwick Boseman chant "Wakanda forever" at Leimart Park Saturday.
Fans of Chadwick Boseman chant “Wakanda Forever” in reference to the movie “Black Panther” during a memorial for the late actor at Leimert Park on Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Fans gathered in Leimert Park in South Los Angeles on Saturday evening to celebrate the life of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman, who died Friday after a four-year battle with colon cancer.

About a dozen fans of the 43-year-old actor, who was most famous for his role as King T’Challa in Marvel’s first Black superhero film, met at the park, which has long been a popular gathering spot for L.A.'s Black community. The event was held by Project Islamic Hope, a Los Angeles civil rights group.

“It was so last minute, but we had to do something,” said the group’s leader Najee Ali, who was wearing a “Black Panther” T-shirt.

“Our community, locally, we lost Nipsey [Hussle] last year. We just lost Kobe [Bryant] a few months ago and now to lose Chadwick Boseman while we’re undergoing this global pandemic, which clearly has to be the worst year in everyone’s lifetime,” Ali said. “For African Americans, we’re distraught and it’s going to take a while for us to get over this because no one saw it coming.”

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News of Boseman’s sudden death stunned fans who were unaware that he was ill.

“It only adds to his scale to know that he was sick the entire time and what he was going through personally,” said McCall Jones, 56. “And those were not easy movies to do and he carried it amazingly.”

Ali said his 12-year-old daughter, Jurnee, who dressed up as Black Panther for Halloween last year, was “devastated” by Boseman’s death. He said the film was inspiring to a lot of Black children.

“I’m concerned about our youth because they’re grieving,” Ali said.

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Thirteen-year-old Leilah Elkholy of Los Feliz, who attended the event with her mother, was the only child at the memorial. She recalled going to a movie theater to see “Black Panther,” which she said was her favorite Marvel film.

“It was much different than most Marvel movies that I’ve seen,” she said. “I just felt like it was much more diverse and cultured, and I really enjoyed it.”

“I just love him,” she said of Boseman. “He just was so bright, and he seemed kind of like a sunshine in a way. When I watched him, it made me feel happy.”

Boseman made a career out of playing historic Black figures, including the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, Dodgers great Jackie Robinson and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

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For Jones of Santa Monica, Boseman’s death in the midst of so much racial tension in the country serves as reminder to keep fighting for racial justice like he did.

In this moment, Jones said, “we’re all reminded of what he represented. And he represented rising above. He represented perseverance. He represented getting it done anyway.”

“So in a sense, his loss becomes a message to remind us that, yes, we can still fight on. We still have a chance to make a difference. And he reminded us through making this statement, if you will now, that an individual can make a difference. ... It’s our turn literally to fight to make that difference that he started the ball rolling on.”

Later, Ali lit two candles in front of a photo of Boseman set up at the memorial. He said he hopes other people will continue adding candles, flowers and pictures in tribute to the actor whose work lives on.

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As Ali and attendees left Leimert Park, they crossed their arms on their chest in the shape of an X and chanted, “Wakanda Forever!”


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