Chadwick Boseman was best known to audiences for his work onscreen, playing iconic figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and the Black Panther. But offscreen, he was known as a proud Howard Bison.
Howard University announced today that the newly re-established college of fine arts, led by Dean Phylicia Rashad, will be named the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts for the late actor and distinguished alumnus.
Boseman died in August 2020 at age 43, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
In a statement celebrating the announcement, Boseman’s family shared their gratitude for Howard President Wayne A. I. Fredrick and the Board of Trustees for honoring their beloved Chad with the renaming of the institution.
“Chad fought to preserve the College of Fine Arts during his matriculation at Howard and remained dedicated to the fight throughout his career, and he would be overjoyed by this development,” the Boseman Family said.
“His time at Howard University helped shape both the man and the artist that he became, committed to truth, integrity, and a determination to transform the world through the power of storytelling,” the statement continued. “We are confident that under the dynamic leadership of his former professor and mentor the indomitable Phylicia Rashad that the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts will inspire artistic scholars for many generations.”
Boseman’s wife, Simone Ledward-Boseman also shared her support for the move.
“I am extremely pleased that Howard University has chosen to honor my husband in this way and elated that Ms. Rashad has accepted the role as Dean,” she said. “Chad was a very proud Bison — both Howard and Ms. Rashad played integral roles in his journey as an artist. The re-establishment of the College of Fine Arts brings this part of his story full-circle and ensures that his legacy will continue to inspire young storytellers for years to come.”
Though Boseman’s full tenure at Howard was formative, the actor was particularly impacted by his time and training with Rashad, whose appointment as Dean was announced earlier this month.
When discussing the announcement with Variety, Rashad shared that, in a touching gesture, some of her former students vouched for her to take on the position. “I was asked not to discuss this, but somehow some former students were aware of the fact that I was in process of being interviewed and they quietly voiced their support.”
Boseman had been very public about the way Rashad’s mentorship prepared him and was in support of her taking on the role, after having been such a significant part of his own journey.
In a statement about renaming the college in honor of her beloved student, Rashad said: “Unrelenting in his pursuit of excellence, Chadwick was possessed with a passion for inquiry and a determination to tell stories – through acting, writing, and directing – that revealed the beauty and complexity of our human spirit.”
The reestablishment of the independent fine arts college was a long-held dream of Boseman’s, who graduated in 2000 with a BFA in directing. While he was a student, Boseman led a protest against the College of Fine Arts’ absorption into the College of Arts & Sciences, which he referenced during his powerful commencement address in 2018.
Famed author Ta-Nehisi Coates was a fellow student during those years, working as a reporter for the Hilltop newspaper. Coates notes that part of the actor’s ethos was built at during his time at the college.
“Naming the College of Fine Arts after Chad, I think it’s perfect and it’s exactly what should be done. His theater work, his movie work, his acting and his writing, this was a continuation of that activism.”
He continued: “The arts for him were always about something more. We’ve had a long list of artists come out of Howard, but, in our generation, nobody can better articulate, by example or by artistry, what we learned at Howard and what the university gave to us. So, I think it’s just fitting – it makes me teary-eyed thinking about it– naming the College after our brother who never stopped fighting for it.”
In addition to renaming the college for Boseman, The Walt Disney Company’s executive chairman Bob Iger will lead fundraising efforts to build a new facility for the college and an endowment in the “Black Panther” star’s name.
“Chadwick Boseman was an extraordinarily gifted, charismatic and kind-hearted person whose incredible talent and generous spirit were clearly reflected in his iconic performances, including as King T’Challa in ‘Black Panther,’ and in his tireless commitment to helping others,” Iger said. “Through his tremendous example he inspired millions to overcome adversity, dream big and reach beyond the status quo, and this College named in his honor at his beloved Howard University will provide opportunities for future generations of artists to follow in his footsteps and pursue their dreams.”
The building will also house the Cathy Hughes School of Communications and the University’s television and radio stations, WHUT-TV and WHUR 96.3 FM, creating a dynamic, one-stop complex for the arts and journalism combined.
“When Chadwick Boseman returned to campus in 2018 to serve as our commencement speaker, he called Howard a magical place,” said Howard University president Wayne A. I. Fredrick. “During his visit, I announced our plans to reestablish the College of Fine Arts and he was filled with ideas and plans to support the effort in a powerful way.”
“Chadwick’s love for Howard University was sincere,” Fredrick continued. “Although he did not live to see those plans through to fruition, it is my honor to ensure his legacy lives on.”
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