How often do you recognize you stand upon the shoulders of others?

Today is September 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you recognize you stand upon the shoulders of others?” In 2020, actor Dwayne Johnson published a social media post of a picture with him holding his daughter with the following inscription “She can be anything she wants. She can sit at any table. She can trailblaze a path, while humbly and gratefully recognizing those before her who paved the way.” Those who navigate the chaos, like fellow actor Chadwick Boseman, understand they stand upon the shoulders of others.

American actor Chadwick Aaron Boseman navigated the chaos of acting and struggled for ten years before landing his breakout role of Jackie Robinson in the 2013 biopic 42. He would go on to portray historical figures singer James Brown in Get on Up (2014) as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017). Boseman achieved international fame for his performance as superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from 2016 to 2019. He appeared in four MCU films, including 2018 film Black Panther that earned him an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

In 2016, Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer. Boseman kept his condition private, continuing to pursue his acting career while receiving treatment. After a four-year battle, he died in 2020 from complications related to the illness. As James Doubek wrote for NPR “In his movie roles, Chadwick Boseman was praised for bringing dignity and humanity to icons in the fight for racial justice — figures like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and James Brown. He also inspired millions as the superhero Black Panther.”

Boseman graduated from Howard University in 2000 and returned in 2018 to give the commencement address at the historically Black university. He spoke of getting fired from an early acting role because he questioned the show's producers about it playing on stereotypes. He told the graduating class:

"Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is and how you need to fight it. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny."

At the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award event in 2019, Boseman delivered a moving speech saluting Denzel Washington, who once paid his tuition for a summer acting program while Boseman was attending Howard University.

“Many of you already know the story that Mr. Washington was asked by Phylicia Rashad to join her in assisting nine theater students from Howard University who had been accepted to a summer acting program at the British Academy of Dramatic Acting in Oxford,” Boseman said in his tribute.

“As fate would have it, I was one of the students that he paid for. Imagine receiving the letter that your tuition for that summer was paid for and that your benefactor was none other than the dopest actor on the planet. There is no ‘Black Panther’ without Denzel Washington. And not just because of me, but my whole cast. That generation stands on your shoulders. The daily battles won, the thousand territories gained, the many sacrifices you made for the culture on film sets through your career, the things you refused to compromise along the way, laid the blueprints for us to follow.”

The phrase ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ is a metaphor which means "Using the understanding gained by major thinkers who have gone before in order to make intellectual progress.” This concept has been traced to the 12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres. Its most familiar expression in English is by Isaac Newton in 1675: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Boseman was able to see further by standing on the shoulders of Denzel Washington. Who has helped you see further? Perhaps more importantly, who are you helping to see further? Who is standing on your shoulders?