By Angelique Jackson
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 in honor of 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, where he spoke about challenging the powers that be and finding your purpose.
“A Howard University education is not just about what happens in the classroom, students,” Boseman said, addressing the class of 2018. “In some ways, what you were able to do exemplifies some of the skills you learned in the classroom. It takes the education out of the realm of theory and into utility and practice.”
Famed author Ta-Nehisi Coates was a fellow student during those years, working as a reporter for the Hilltop newspaper.
“One of my outstanding memories of him as a public figure is of him being one of the leaders of the protest to preserve the College of Fine Arts, which we knew even at that time, had turned out so many alumni like Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen,” Coates tells Variety. “That was very present to us. We were all mourning when they shut it down.”
For Coates, looking back on that protest in 1997, as Boseman and his fellow students led a three-day sit-in at the administration building, not only represents Boseman’s leadership skills, but his long term dedication to Howard’s students past and present. And renaming the college of fine arts for Boseman continues that legacy.
“For him to go out into the world, to take the knowledge that he had acquired at Howard University, and become the artist that he became — obviously we all mourn his passing much, much, much too early — but I know how important that college was to him,” Coates says. “And given everything that he gave, I don’t know who else it could be named after. It feels totally appropriate for who he was.”
He adds: “The message that this really sends to me — especially for young people who think things are not going the way they think they should go at some point — is you just never know how it’s gonna come back, so, stick with it. Some fights are long and this was a near-25 year fight. I salute Chad and I salute President Fredrick for doing this.”
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.”
After the news was announced, a post on the actor’s social media accounts welcomed future students to the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. The tweet also highlighted the full-circle nature of the moment, complete with the Hilltop newspaper clipping about the protest and a photo of Boseman at commencement, summing up the sentiment from all who knew the man — and those who admired him from afar — perfectly.
“Chad, you exemplify Howard’s core values of excellence, leadership, service, and truth,” the post read. “There is no one more deserving of such an honor. We are so proud of you, we love you, and we miss you every day.”